Gunmen dumped the bodies of 35 people with suspected ties to organized crime under an overpass filled with motorists Tuesday on the outskirts of the Mexican port city of Veracruz, officials said.
The bodies were left in a pair of trucks and on the road near a major shopping center in the community of Boca del Rio, a popular site for Mexican tourists to the port city, along the Gulf of Mexico.
Reynaldo Escobar, prosecutor for the state of Veracruz, said the dead bore signs of torture. In an effort to calm residents who have been appalled by rising drug-related violence, Escobar said the seven victims identified by late Tuesday had criminal records for involvement in organized-crime activities, including kidnappings, extortion, drug sales and murder.
“This is something that can calm the population,” he said in a telephone interview with Milenio Television. “This is not about civilians. These are people involved in illicit business, in drug sales.”
Photographs of the crime scene showed bodies spilling from two parked vehicles below an overpass. At least 11 of the deceased were reported to be women, but Mexican news reports gave conflicting figures. Some motorists reportedly had used social networking to indicate that gunmen had been blocking Manuel Avila Camacho Boulevard.
Veracruz state has become increasingly violent in the last few years as it has fallen increasingly under the sway of the ultra-violent drug-trafficking gang known as the Zetas.
State officials have frequently been accused of corruption and even collusion with the drug gang, which has branched out into migrant smuggling, kidnapping and extortion.
The Zetas, once the armed wing of the so-called Gulf cartel based along the U.S. border, has been at war for more than a year with its former allies. It was possible that the latest killings were linked to that feud.
A day earlier, more than 30 prisoners escaped from separate state prisons, but Escobar said authorities had not established a tie between the two events. Veracruz is the site of a planned gathering of prosecutors from across Mexico this week.
The grisly scene Tuesday was the latest sign of the spiraling violence that has engulfed Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched a military-led offensive against drug cartels soon after taking office in late 2006.
The death toll nationwide has climbed above 40,000, largely as a result of fighting between trafficking groups that have shed old alliances or split apart as leaders have been arrested or killed during the government crackdown.
The Calderon administration, citing those takedowns, claims it is winning a war against crime groups that it says was long overdue. But critics say the offensive has spurred more killing, and many Mexicans believe the government is losing.
Mexicans were horrified last month when an arson attack attributed to the Zetas killed 52 people — many of them middle-aged and older women — at a casino in the northern city of Monterrey.
That city, Mexico’s third-largest, has also been buffeted for months by the struggle between the Zetas and the Gulf cartel.
Veracruz made the news recently after two people were arrested on terrorism charges of using social networks to spread unconfirmed rumors of an attack on local schools.
Amid an outcry, state leaders pushed legislation through Tuesday that would allow them to prosecute the pair on a lesser charge of disturbing the peace.