Mexico City – The suspected intellectual author of the arson attack that killed 52 people at the Casino Royale in the northern Mexican industrial city of Monterrey on Aug. 25, 2011, died in a shootout with army troops, the Defense Secretariat said.
Francisco Medina Mejia, a leader of the Los Zetas drug cartel, died Wednesday in a gunfight with soldiers on the Nuevo Laredo-Piedras Negras highway, which links Tamaulipas and Coahuila states.
An army patrol encountered vehicles carrying Medina Mejia and other Zetas bosses, the secretariat said.
Gunmen opened fire on the soldiers, who engaged them in a shootout, killing Medina Mejia and three other criminals.
The army seized large-caliber weapons, vehicles and communications equipment belonging to the Zetas members.
Medina Mejia was identified on the basis of several large scars and a weapon found at the scene with "Quemado," the nickname of the Zetas boss, engraved on it, the secretariat said.
Medina Mejia "was identified as the intellectual author of the attack on the Casino Royale ... where 52 people lost their lives," the Defense Secretariat said in a statement.
The Zetas boss allegedly ordered Baltasar Saucedo Estrada to stage the attack, which rocked Mexican society last summer.
The attack, according to the investigation conducted by the Nuevo Leon Attorney General's Office, was ordered by cartel bosses because the casino's owners refused to pay up in an extortion racket.
Medina Mejia was known inside Los Zetas "for the extreme violence with which he ran the areas he was in charge of" and was considered "one of the closest associates of Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, alias 'El 40,'" a top cartel leader, the secretariat said.
In 2010, Medina Mejia took over the gang's operations in Saltillo, the capital of Coahuila state.
Medina Mejia started 2011 "in charge of the criminal organization's activities in Nuevo Leon state and in the city of Nuevo Laredo, in Tamaulipas state," both in northern Mexico, the secretariat said.
The Zetas boss is suspected of being behind the Feb. 2, 2011, murder of retired Gen. Manuel Farfan Carriola in Nuevo Laredo, where he was serving as police chief.
Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, known as "El Lazca," deserted from the Mexican army in 1999 and formed Los Zetas with three other soldiers, all members of an elite special operations unit, becoming the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel.
After several years on the payroll of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas, considered Mexico's most violent criminal organization, went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
Los Zetas has been blamed for several massacres in recent years.
The cartel was accused of being behind the Aug. 23, 2010, massacre of 72 migrants, the majority of them from Latin America, at a ranch outside San Fernando, a city in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
Los Zetas has also been blamed for the massacre of 27 peasants in May at a ranch in Guatemala's Peten province, which borders Mexico and Belize.