Members of the Zetas drug gang used a prison in northern Mexico as their private house of horrors where they tortured and killed kidnapping victims and underworld enemies, public prosecutors in the state of Coahuila have said.
Between 2009 and 2012, Piedras Negras prison became a virtual extermination camp, ruled with impunity by the notorious crime cartel as an operational base for their reign of terror in the US-Mexican border region.
After an investigation into the three-year period, authorities estimate that around 150 people were murdered inside the prison, with their bodies being burnt or broken down in acid-filled tanks before the remains were disposed of in a river some 20 miles away from the jail.
It is not clear to what extent the prison’s official guards actively cooperated with gang members or whether they merely allowed them to act with impunity in exchange for keeping order among inmates. But prosecutors have revealed that Zetas’ prison leaders dressed up in uniforms as the prison’s de facto security force, wearing bulletproof vests and driving customized vehicles.
“We have received information that in this place was governed autonomously by the Zetas,” a spokesman for the Coahuila state prosecution force said on Wednesday after an investigation based on the testimony of 42 prisoners who were being held in Piedras Negras during that period.
The leader of the bloodthirsty Zetas prison gang has been identified as Ramón Burciaga Magallanes, who is currently in another jail serving time for kidnapping. Besides Burciaga Magallanes, prosecutors served arrest warrants on four other suspects. All five are accused of participating in just seven murders because the remains of seven victims have been found and identifies within the prison compound.
The state prosecutor’s office said that it is searching for more missing persons who “were taken to the prison to be killed”.
Piedras Negras prison hit the headlines in September 2012, when 131 inmates escaped through the front door in what was reported as Mexico’s biggest-ever jailbreak. That incident jolted state security forces from their passive stance and the prison was closed down later that year, with remaining inmates transferred elsewhere.
The case highlights the self-government that criminal gangs that enjoy in Mexican prisons. In February, 49 inmates were killed in a pitched battle in Monterrey, where two rival Zetas leaders were fighting for control of a prison.