Imprisoned members of the Zetas drug cartel killed 44 inmates from the rival Gulf cartel and then staged a mass escape, apparently with the help of prison staff, Mexican officials have said.
Rodrigo Medina, governor of Nuevo Leon state, said the prison’s director, three other officials and 18 guards had been sacked and were under investigation over the escape.
“Unfortunately, a group of traitors has set back the work of a lot of good police,” he told a news conference. “The most important thing is to make sure that the people working on the inside are on the side of the law, and that they not be corrupted and collaborate with the criminals, as the investigations indicate they presumably did.”
Medina did not say how the escape was carried out, but he noted thatsaid no cartel members had broken into the jail to spring their colleagues, as has happened at other Mexican prisons. Nor were any firearms smuggled into the facility; all of the deaths apparently occurred using blunt instruments or improvised knives.
Families of prisoners protested outside the prison because they could not get information on the victims. Only 10 of the dead had been identified by late afternoon on Sunday.
Medina confirmed that all 30 escapees were linked to the Zetas, a a gang founded by deserters from an elite Mexican military unit.
He did not say what crimes those who escaped had been convicted of, but said 25 of them were on federal charges, which often involve drug trafficking or illegal weapons possession. Medina offered a reward of 10m pesos (£505,000) for information leading the arrest of those involved in the jailbreak.
The state governor did not say whether the riot and murders were carried out to cover up the escape, but said it appeared to have been planned and may have involved help from authorities at a specific point along the prison perimeter.
The Zetas and Gulf cartels were allies before splitting in 2010 and they have been fighting turf battles in Monterrey and elsewhere in northeastern Mexico.
Medina said: “It would be very good for the state if a large number of federal inmates are transferred out, in light of the overcrowding we have.”
The prison is located in Apodaca, a part of the Monterrey metropolitan area.
All 2,500 inmates were there on federal charges, with as many as 70% yet to be convicted. The prison population there grew by 1,500 in the last year to 180% of capacity, the result of a crackdown on organised crime and drug trafficking.
Medina said about 60% of inmates in local lockups across the state are facing federal charges.
Sunday’s riot was one of the deadliest so far. Last month, 31 inmates died during a prison riot in Altamira, Tamaulipas state, which borders Texas. Another fight in a Tamaulipas prison in the border city of Matamoros in October killed 20 inmates and injured 12.
More than 47,500 people have been killed in drug-related violence since 2006, when President Felipe Calderón intensified the crackdown on organised crime in Mexico.