MEXICO CITY Assailants kidnapped and murdered 14 men and left their corpses in a Mercedes Benz van on a major highway in the state of San Luis Potosi in central Mexico, a prosecutor said Thursday.
The men had been kidnapped Wednesday in the northern state of Coauhuila, where the vehicle was stolen in an armed robbery, said the official from the attorney general's office of San Luis Potosi. The corpses were found early Thursday morning.
The attack bore the hallmarks of drug cartels but it was not immediately clear which group carried out the murders or who the victims were, said the official, who asked that her name not be used for security reasons.
The bodies were left close to the site where a U.S. official was killed in an armed assault on his vehicle in 2011.
The attack is the fifth time assailants have dumped 14 corpses in Mexico in recent months, signaling the number may be some sort of code for drug traffickers.
In April, assailants strung up the corpses of 14 men in Nuevo Laredo, on the border with Texas, and then the following month assailants dumped the heads of 14 other men in an icebox in the city.
In June, police then found 14 corpses in a vehicle near the town hall of Mante, in Tamaulipas state, and another 14 on a road in neighboring Veracruz state.
In total there have been more than 55,000 gangland murders and execution style hits since President Felipe Calderon took power in December 2006 and declared a national crackdown on drug gangs.
Many of the victims have been identified as innocent civilians unconnected to the drug trade.
Incoming President Enrique Pena Nieto takes power in December and has promised to reduce the rate of homicides as well as those of extortion and kidnappings.
(Reporting By Ioan Grillo; Editing by Vicki Allen)