Mexican authorities and criminal groups offered no confirmation or denial Saturday of the death of Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, the Zeta crime boss reportedly gunned down by rivals one day earlier in Matamoros.
Sources outside law enforcement independently confirmed Lazcano’s slaying Friday after firefights with the rival Gulf Cartel broke out early that morning across Matamoros.
Gulf Cartel enforcers took Lazcano’s body after he was slain near an international bridge linking Matamoros to Brownsville, sources familiar with criminal activity in Mexico said.
However, no corpse or other physical evidence of his demise had surfaced as of The Monitor’s press deadline Saturday.
A Mexican source outside law enforcement said that authorities in that country and known Lazcano associates in Veracruz, one of the capo’s areas of influence, had been trying without success to reach him since Friday afternoon. The Zetas gave no public confirmation or denial of his death, but the source said the crime boss was missing in action.
State and local authorities in Matamoros and neighboring cities were on high alert Saturday, a Tamaulipas law enforcement official said.
Three different sources with direct knowledge of criminal activity in Matamoros said the Gulf Cartel was circling its wagons in preparation for another incursion into its territory.
Three Mexican sources familiar with criminal activity in Matamoros said Lazcano arrived in that city Friday amid a convoy of more than 130 SUVs carrying fellow Zetas. However, firefights with the Gulf Cartel broke out shortly after 5 a.m. and continued throughout the day.
At some point, those sources stated, Lazcano attempted to flee gunfire along Lauro Villar Avenue, triggering wide-ranging firefights near Veterans International Bridge at Los Tomates. Gulf Cartel enforcers snatched his body after he met his end near the border crossing.
Mexican authorities didn’t arrive until about an hour after the clash, according to the Mexican sources familiar with criminal activity in Matamoros.
Nevertheless, Mexico’s Defense Ministry issued a statement late Friday night disputing reports Lazcano was killed.
The Mexican army issued a news release late Friday evening stating it had recovered a corpse from an SUV in the Pedro Moreno neighborhood – across town from where Lazcano was reportedly slain. The body’s features suggested it was not the Zeta boss but the military gave no indication whether fingerprinting or other, more conclusive forensic examination had been conducted.
The news release from the military mentions just one clash, which resulted in three dead and nine arrested.
U.S. federal law enforcement officials, however, said four Gulf Cartel members were killed in that battle and that Mexican soldiers provided support to the Zetas during that clash.
The military said in the news release that it had rescued 17 civilians.
However, a U.S. federal law enforcement official said the Zetas, aided by the military, tried to rescue 11 Zetas the Gulf Cartel had captured the previous day.
The news release from the Defense Ministry doesn’t mention several other firefights between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas that took place in the city.
Firefights not listed in the release from the Mexican army also were reported in these neighborhoods: Mariano Matamoros, Puerto Rico, Sección 16 and Valle Alto, according to sources outside law enforcement and members of the Mexican news media.
A Mexican source outside law enforcement but with direct knowledge of the events said another firefight occurred in the rural Cabras Pintas area, where six members of the Mexican military not listed in the army’s news release also were killed.
The areas where the firefights were reported are easily accessible from the highway linking Matamoros and Ciudad Victoria.
Two independent sources outside law enforcement and with direct knowledge of the events said Lazcano was in the latter city recently and had been seen in Matamoros in the days leading up to his reported slaying.
Alejandro Poire, a spokesman for Mexico’s Public Safety Ministry, issued a statement via Twitter on Friday that information available at that time indicated Lazcano was not among dead.
No other public statement on the reports of Lazcano’s slaying was forthcoming as of late Saturday.