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Narco Blog: Suspected Mastermind of Mexico Casino Massacre and Nuevo Leon Zeta’s Leader Arrested

Narco Blog: Suspected Mastermind of Mexico Casino Massacre and Nuevo Leon Zeta’s Leader Arrested

Photo: Baltazar Saucedo Estrada

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Mexican police arrested an alleged Los Zetas drug cartel leader who is suspected of planning last year’s arson attack on a casino in this northern industrial city that left 52 dead, officials said Friday.

Baltazar Saucedo Estrada, 48, whom authorities also suspect in the killings of two police chiefs and other crimes, was paraded before the media Friday morning by the Nuevo Leon state Attorney General’s Office.

Jorge Domene, spokesman for the Nuevo Leon security council, said Saucedo Estrada, alias “El Comandante Mataperros,” was detained by police at 1:40 p.m. Thursday while traveling in his vehicle in Monterrey’s San Luis neighborhood.

He was arrested along with two other people identified as Aurelio Lares Cisneros, 38, and Ricardo Ramirez Hernandez. Authorities also seized weapons, drugs and a vehicle from the suspects.

During interrogations, Saucedo Estrada confessed to ordering the Aug. 25 arson attack on the Casino Royale in Monterrey, as well as to participating in the February 2011 killing of an intelligence official with the Nuevo Leon state police force, Homero Salcido TreviƱo.

The suspect also acknowledged ordering the murder of German Perez Quiroz, the police chief of the Nuevo Leon city of Santa Catarina, part of the Monterrey metropolitan area. Perez Quiroz was gunned down in his office on June 27 of last year.

According to authorities, Saucedo Estrada also confessed to ordering the kidnapping and murder of several police officers in municipalities in the Monterrey metro area.

Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office had offered a reward of up to 5 million pesos (some $360,000) for information leading to the arrest of Saucedo Estrada, the suspected head of the Monterrey “plaza” (drug corridor) for Los Zetas.

A score of people have been arrested in the casino massacre, but authorities are still trying to track down another 17 suspects, including another alleged mastermind identified as Francisco Medina Mejia, alias “El Quemado,” and the top leader of Los Zetas, Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano.

Suspects previously detained in the massacre told authorities that Los Zetas gunmen torched the casino because the gaming establishment’s owner refused to pay protection money.

The gunmen told the people inside the casino to get out before setting fire to the building, but the emergency exits were closed. The majority of the 52 victims died from smoke inhalation, with only seven burning to death.

The massacre targeting employees and customers of the gaming establishment was one of the deadliest attacks on civilians by Mexican organized crime gangs.

Founded by deserters from an elite special forces unit, Los Zetas began as the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel, but ended that relationship in March 2010 to go into business for themselves.

Regarded as Mexico’s most ruthless cartel, Los Zetas is accused of carrying out the August 2010 massacre of 72 undocumented immigrants near the U.S. border and is suspected in several similar cases.

The group has drawn the ire of older, established cartels through its extensive involvement in extortion, kidnapping for ransom and robbery, crimes that the other drug mobs generally eschew out of a desire to avoid antagonizing the general public.

Read in Spanish Here