Mexican prison melee said to be cover for gangsters' escape

MEXICO CITY — Prison guards apparently let inmates who belonged to the brutal Los Zetas gang bludgeon to death scores of rivals from the Gulf Cartel during a weekend riot, while other Zetas gangsters fled the prison, Gov. Rodrigo Medina of Nuevo Leon state said Monday.

Medina said 30 inmates, some of them senior Zetas gangsters, escaped the Apodaca prison, probably using Sunday's predawn melee as cover.

There were no signs that the fleeing inmates had escaped over prison walls or through tunnels, Medina said, indicating that they simply walked out the gates.

"Unfortunately, a group of traitors has set back the work of a lot of good police," Medina said during a news conference in Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon.

"It's painful for us to confirm that the treason, corruption and complicity of some could obstruct the service of good police officers, soldiers and marines."

Medina fired the prison's warden, his deputy and the state's director of penitentiaries. Authorities also detained for questioning the 18 guards who were on duty at the time of the riot.

Among the gangsters who escaped was Oscar Manuel "The Spider" Bernal Soriano, who was the Zetas boss in Monterrey, Mexico's third largest city, at the time of his capture in October 2010. Bernal is accused of taking part in the execution of a retired army brigadier general and his four bodyguards in 2009.

Medina said that all 30 of the escapees were Zetas. He offered a reward of 10 million pesos — about $787,000 — for information that leads to their recapture.

The prison melee began around 2 a.m. Sunday, when Zetas inmates wielding clubs, rocks and makeshift knives attacked a cellblock that housed members of the Gulf Cartel, stabbing and bludgeoning them to death. At least one man reportedly was beheaded. All the victims belonged to the Gulf Cartel, Medina said.

Soldiers arrived at the prison and quelled the riot within two hours.

One Monterrey human rights advocate said prison guards appeared to let the vengeance slayings occur. Sister Consuelo Morales, a nun who heads Citizens in Support of Human Rights, told the Milenio television network that some of the slain inmates were disfigured. "Some of them no longer had eyes," she said.

Collusion between Mexican prison wardens and gangsters isn't uncommon. A warden in Durango state was arrested in July 2010, accused of handing over assault weapons to inmates and letting them out of prison at night to execute enemies.

Like prisons around much of Latin America, the Apodaca jail was overcrowded, holding 2,514 inmates, well above its maximum capacity of 1,522.

A fire broke out six days earlier in an overcrowded Honduran prison, leading to the deaths of 359 inmates in the worst prison tragedy ever in Latin America.


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