MEXICO CITY – The Mexican navy nabbed a suspected Zetas cartel leader accused of involvement in some of the country's most notorious crimes in recent years, authorities said Monday.
Navy spokesman Jose Luis Vergara announced that Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobedo was arrested Saturday and is believed to have masterminded the massacre of 72 migrants in the northern state of Tamaulipas in 2010.
The man known as "Squirrel" also has been linked to the escape of 151 prisoners in 2010 from a jail in the city of Nuevo Laredo, the recent flight of 131 prisoners in the city of Piedras Negras and the killing of U.S. citizen David Hartley in 2010 on Falcon Lake, which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border.
The death of Hartley drew wide attention as it appeared Hartley and his wife were on a personal trip when he was shot by Mexican criminals on Sept. 30, 2010. The navy is also blaming Martinez for the killing of the Tamaulipas state police commander and chief investigator on the case, an attack that hampered the investigation.
Vergara said Martinez was captured in Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas. He was shown to the news media Monday.
The navy said Martinez is also a suspect in dozens of killings of people who were buried in mass graves at the same site of the 2010 massacre of migrants. Nearly 200 bodies were discovered in April 2011 in the town of San Fernando, close to the U.S. border. Those two crimes have been the most fatalities since Mexico's federal government launched an armed offensive against drug traffickers in December 2006.
The mass prison escapes that authorities believe the 31-year-old Martinez is behind have been the largest in recent history. The most recent escape of 131 inmates was considered to be orchestrated by the Zetas to replenish its forces in northern Mexico, where is in a war with the powerful Sinaloa Cartel.
Vergara did not offer evidence on Martinez's specific involvement in any of the alleged crimes.
Martinez is considered to be the Zetas' regional chief for the northern states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila, the more important areas for the brutal cartel.
He was "a trusted man and direct assistant" to Miguel Angel Trevino, one of the two feared alleged top leaders of the Zetas, Vergara said.
Mexican authorities had posed a $1 million reward for Martinez. They say he headed the battle that erupted in 2010 between the Zetas and its previous ally, the Gulf Cartel. The Gulf gang has suffered major blows this year with the capture of its two main bosses.