MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - Members of the Zetas drug cartel plotted with prison guards to orchestrate an elaborate escape and kill 44 of their rivals in one of the worst episodes of prison violence in Mexico, the local state governor said on Monday.
In what first appeared to be prison brawl between criminal gangs, the Zetas stabbed, cut the throats and bludgeoned to death at least 44 inmates affiliated with the rival Gulf Cartel on Sunday, said Governor Rodrigo Medina of Nuevo Leon state.
During the violence, 30 Zetas members escaped the prison on the outskirts of industrial hub Monterrey with the help of corrupt prison guards, he said.
Most of the escapees were charged with federal crimes, like drug trafficking.
“The escaped prisoners belonged to the Zetas cartel and those who lost their lives, the assassinated prisoners, to the Gulf cartel,” Medina told a news conference.
“There is no doubt that without the help of these prison guards, this escape would have been very difficult,” he said.
“The treachery, corruption and complicity of some can spoil the work and service of good policemen, soldiers and marines who risk their lives every day for our security.”
The prison director and his top aides have all been fired and are under investigation along with 18 guards, he said.
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The governor said police will intensify their search for the escapees and are offering almost a million dollars in reward for information that leads to their capture.
Mexico has been plagued with serious prison violence and mass escapes as police and soldiers round up tens of thousands of drug cartel members and lock them up in overcrowded state jails.
In January, 31 inmates were killed in a riot in the neighboring state of Tamaulipas.
Corrupt guards are often in league with prisoners and in one case in 2010 in Durango state, they allowed inmates out at night to carry out revenge killings and even lent them police guns and vehicles.
But Sunday’s attack at the jail in the suburb of Apodaca was the most violent since President Felipe Calderon took power in 2006 and declared war on drug cartels.
The Zetas began as a group of deserters from the Mexican special forces who were hired as enforcers for the Gulf Cartel.
They recently broke away and declared war on their former bosses, unleashing some of the worst violence in Mexico’s drug war in the northeast of the country, which borders Texas.
In total, more than 47,000 people have died in drug related killings in the five years since Calderon took office.
Reporting by Gabriela Lopez in Monterrey and Ioan Grillo; Editing by Mica Rosenberg and Sandra Maler