Monterrey – Army troops raided a factory in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, killing three people, wounding five others and arresting 18, the Mexican Defense Secretariat said Wednesday, adding that 1.5 tons of marijuana were seized in the operation.
The soldiers came under fire when they arrived at the factory just after midnight on Tuesday and engaged the criminals in a firefight, the secretariat said.
The factory is what is known in Mexico as a “narco maquila,” an assembly plant with an illegal drug processing facility hidden inside.
The building, which is in Guadalupe, a city in the Monterrey metropolitan area, was used to store, package and distribute drugs by the Los Zetas cartel, which paid mainly young female workers 2,500 pesos ($200) a week to process the marijuana, a military spokesman said.
Soldiers seized arms, ammunition and three vehicles, including an SUV disguised as a carpentry shop vehicle, in the operation.
Los Zetas, a band of Mexican special forces deserters turned hired guns, have been battling rival cartels for control of smuggling routes into the United States since March.
After several years as the armed wing of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
The Gulf, Sinaloa and La Familia Michoacana drug cartels have formed an alliance to battle Los Zetas.
The cartels arrayed against Los Zetas blame the group’s involvement in kidnappings, armed robbery and extortion for discrediting “true drug traffickers” in the eyes of ordinary Mexicans willing to tolerate the illicit trade as long as the gangs stuck to their own unwritten rule against harming innocents.
Last month, soldiers and Federal Police officers took control of the police department in Guadalupe as part of a “reorganization and cleansing” operation, and arrested 12 state and municipal officers.