MEXICO CITY — Suspected drug traffickers drove two trucks to a main avenue in a Mexican Gulf coast city and dumped 35 bodies beneath an overpass during rush hour as gunmen stood guard and pointed their weapons at frightened drivers.
Horrified motorists trapped at the scene grabbed cell phones and sent Twitter messages warning others to avoid the area on a thoroughfare near the biggest shopping mall in Boca del Rio.
The gruesome scene Tuesday was a sharp escalation in drug violence in Veracruz state, which sits on an important route for drugs and Central American migrants heading north.
The Zetas drug cartel has been battling other gangs for control of the state.
Veracruz state Attorney General Reynaldo Escobar Perez said the bodies were left piled in two trucks and on the ground under an overpass near the mall and a statue of the Voladores de Papantla, ritual dancers from Veracruz state.
Police had identified seven of the victims so far and all had criminal records for murder, drug dealing, kidnapping and extortion and were linked to organized crime, Escobar said. He didn’t say to what group the victims belonged.
Motorists posted warnings on Twitter that masked gunmen in military uniforms were blocking Manuel Avila Camacho Boulevard and pointing their guns at civilians.
“They don’t seem to be soldiers or police,” one tweet read. Another said, “Don’t go through that area, there is danger.”
Escobar said police were reviewing surveillance video recorded in the area.
Local media said that 12 of the victims were women and that some of the dead men had been among prisoners who escaped from three Veracruz prisons on Monday, but Escobar said he couldn’t confirm that.
At least 32 inmates got away from the three Veracruz prisons. Police recaptured 14 of them.
Earlier Tuesday, the Mexican army announced it had captured a key figure in the cult-like Knights Templar drug cartel that is sowing violence in western Mexico.
Saul Solis Solis, 49, a former police chief and one-time congressional candidate, was captured without incident Monday in the cartel’s home state of Michoacan, Brig. Gen. Edgar Luis Villegas said during a presentation of Solis to the media.
Solis is considered one of the principal lieutenants in the Knights Templar, which split late last year from La Familia, a pseudo-religious drug gang known as a major trafficker of methamphetamine.
Drug violence has claimed more than 35,000 lives across Mexico since 2006, according to government figures. Others put the number at more than 40,000.
In northern Mexico, the army announced the detention of two more suspects in a casino fire that killed 52 people last month in the northern city of Monterrey.
The two men captured at a bar in Monterrey late Monday confessed to being members of the Zetas drug cartel and participating in the attack, federal prosecutors said.
Separately in Nuevo Leon, Mexican marines captured 19 alleged members of the Zetas drug cartel at a ranch that was being used as a training camp in the town of Colombia, the military announced.
A navy statement said that seven minors were among those detained and that marines seized four rifles, a pistol, and several military uniforms and boots.