MEXICO CITY (AP) — Three Mexican marines and a naval academy cadet have been kidnapped in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz this month and navy officials said Monday they think drug traffickers are behind the abductions.
It is the first time in recent memory that navy personnel have been abducted and could be the result of the navy's increasing role in President Felipe Calderon's war on drug cartels. Mexican marines have led raids that have captured or killed top drug lords.
The naval cadet has been missing since Aug. 8, when he failed to show up at his base, and the three marines were last seen Aug. 1 when they were snatched from a private car while undergoing training in the city of Veracruz, the navy said in a statement.
The navy, which has many bases in Veracruz state, said it has stepped up efforts to find the missing men. It did not say if it had received any demands from kidnappers or which cartel abducted the men, though much of Veracruz is considered Zetas territory.
In a radio interview, navy spokesman Jose Luis Vergara said two other marines also went missing recently in Veracruz, but he gave no more details and it wasn't clear if they were thought to have been abducted.
Drug gangs have captured Mexican military personnel previously, but the victims have usually quickly turned up dead.
One of the most violent abductions of military personnel involved seven soldiers being kidnapped and left decapitated in 2008 in southern Guerrero state. Their bodies were accompanied by a written message that warned: "For every one of mine that you kill, I will kill 10."
In a first for the country, a man's headless body was hung by its legs with a rope from an overpass on the outskirts of Mexico City early Monday. Such grisly discoveries have happened with some frequency in northern Mexico, but never before so close to the capital, which has largely been spared the drug gang violence affecting other parts of the country.
Police in the upscale suburb of Huixquilucan received a report from a passer-by that a body was hanging by its legs from an overpass in the township just west of the capital.
Huixquilucan police Commissioner Gerardo Oyervides said the victim's severed head was left atop a railing on the overpass. Oyervides said a handwritten sign left near the body claimed the killing had been committed by the drug gang "The Hand with Eyes," whose leader was arrested last week.
Authorities said the arrested man, Oscar Osvaldo Garcia Montoya, had discussed killing some of his subordinates if he was captured because he suspected they could betraye him. Oyervides said the decapitated man appeared to be one of the individuals mentioned by Garcia Montoya.
While several bodies have been hung from overpasses in recent months in northern cities like Monterrey, the closest such grisly displays had previously come to Mexico City was in August 2010, when the decapitated bodies of four men were hung from a bridge in Cuernavaca, about 36 miles (60 kms) south of the capital.
Also Monday, the army reported it has captured Ricardo Benitez Servin, a lieutenant for the battered Beltran Leyva drug cartel who allegedly oversaw the group's operations in Guerrero state. It said he was captured Saturday in the Caribbean coast resort of Cancun.
Benitez Servin was paraded before the news media in Mexico City on Monday, but he made no comments, living up to his nickname, "The Mute."
The Beltran Leyva gang has splintered and declined since Mexican marines killed leader Arturo Beltran Leyva in December 2009.
Benitez Servin had fled to Cancun in July in the face of attacks by the rival La Familia cartel, following a dispute over turf in the Pacific coast resort of Zihuatanejo, the navy said.