The Mexican army announced Friday the arrest of a suspected operative of the Los Zetas drug cartel in connection with the killings of 49 people in the northern state of Nuevo Leon.

Jose Ricardo Barajas Lopez was apprehended on Tuesday in Santa Catarina, Nuevo Leon, the defense department said in a statement.

Barajas, one of 37 inmates who escaped in February from Apodaca prison, was detained in possession of an assault rifle, two stolen vehicles and communications gear.

Once in custody, the suspect admitted to authorities he took part in the massacre of the 49 people whose dismembered bodies were found May 13 on the roadside near Cadereyta, Nuevo Leon, the defense department said.

The killers left a banner with the bodies, which were dumped in front of a monument at the entrance to the town.

Army troops pulled down the banner and authorities did not reveal the message, but the killers spraypainted "100 % zetas" on the monument.

Barajas told investigators he transported several alleged Gulf cartel members who were turned over to Rolando Fernando Sanchez, an ex-cop who runs Los Zetas' operation in Santa Catarina, for execution.

Authorities suggested the massacre had been ordered by the Zetas high command of Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano and Miguel Angel Treviño Morales.

The reputed Los Zetas boss in Cadereyta, Daniel de Jesus Elizondo Ramirez, was arrested in May on suspicion of involvement in the killings.

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 outfit, Los Zetas, considered Mexico's most violent criminal organization, went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.

More than 2,000 people died in Nuevo Leon last year amid a battle between the Zetas and the Gulf cartel for control of smuggling routes in the United States. EFE