Mexico City – Mexican marines captured 14 Los Zetas drug cartel employees in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, the navy said Friday.
The suspects were arrested Wednesday in the municipality of Fortin de las Flores after a marine patrol spotted four vehicles sitting parked with the headlights on, the navy said in a statement.
Noting that one of the vehicles had no license plate, the marines carried out an inspection of all four and found guns, ammunition and drugs.
"Without any coercion," the four women and 10 men inside the vehicles told the marines they worked for the Zetas "as lookouts, money-collectors, shift bosses," the navy said.
The marines seized a handgun, a grenade, nearly 2,000 rounds of ammunition and communications gear, as well as cocaine and marijuana packaged for retail sale.
Veracruz, a corridor for both undocumented migrants and illegal drugs bound for the United States, has been the scene in recent months of gruesome massacres amid an intensifying turf struggle between Los Zetas and the Gulf drug cartel.
Additional federal police and military personnel were deployed in the state last month as part of a crime-suppression operation dubbed "Safe Veracruz."
News of the arrests in Veracruz followed an announcement that army troops captured a suspected Los Zetas boss in north-central Mexico.
In a joint statement Thursday, the Defense Secretariat and the federal Attorney General's Office said Alfredo Aleman Narvaez, the purported Zetas chief in the central state of San Luis Potosi, was captured two days prior in Fresnillo, Zacatecas.
A combined air and ground operation during a horse race organized by Aleman Narvaez led to the capture of the suspected drug boss, accused of coordinating marijuana distribution in Mexico and the United States and other criminal activities.
Founded by deserters from an elite special forces unit, Los Zetas began as the armed wing of the Gulf cartel, but ended that relationship in March 2010 to go into business for themselves.
Hundreds have died in the ensuing turf battles between the aggressive upstarts and the established drug trafficking organizations.
President Felipe Calderon militarized the struggle against Mexico's heavily armed, well-funded drug mobs shortly after taking office in December 2006, deploying tens of thousands of troops to drug-war flashpoints.
The strategy has led to headline-grabbing captures of cartel kingpins, but drug-related violence has skyrocketed and claimed nearly 50,000 lives nationwide over the five-year period.