Monterrey, northeastern Mexico. Relatives of inmates at the Topo Chico prison were demanding answers from the authorities on Thursday following a battle between the notorious Los Zetas drug cartel and their rivals that has left at least 52 dead and several others badly injured, some critically. Nuevo Leon state Gov. Jaime Rodriguez confirmed the death toll at a press conference, saying that two units of the prison had been affected by the rioting.
According to Rodriguez, disturbances began around midnight and involved a faction of the Zetas cartel run by Juan Pedro Zaldivar Farias, who also goes by the name of “Z-27”. While it was not immediately clear how the victims died, it is said that some inmates had set fire to the prison and local TV station Milenio Television broadcast footage of the building in flames. The Washington Post reports that burns victims were being treated by rescue workers.
Upon seeing flames illuminating the night sky above the prison, concerned family members gathered at the entrance and forced their way in, attacking riot police with rocks and other projectiles once inside, according to Reuters. The disturbance was finally quelled at around 1:30 a.m. local time. One inmate’s mother – who wished to remain anonymous due to fear of a revenge attack – was reported by The Washington Post as saying that the prison authorities were keeping relatives in the dark over the fate of their loved ones:
Everything is in disorder, and nobody is telling us anything.
The relatives of a number of inmates claim that their sons escaped from the violence by hiding in the women’s wing of the prison. At least one prisoner managed to send a message directly to his mother, with CNN quoting her as saying she received word from him that:
There is a riot, they want to kill us all, come ask for me
Many Mexican prisons are severely overpopulated and some are effectively run by drugs cartels. A key Zetas leader was stabbed to death at the same facility last year. In February 2012 another Nuevo Leon state penitentiary, the Apodaca federal prison, was the site of a similarly violent massacre also involving the Zetas, who butchered 44 members of the rival Gulf cartel while staging a bloody escape plan in cahoots with prison guards.