MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) — Forty-nine decapitated and mutilated bodies were found Sunday dumped on a highway connecting the northern Mexican metropolis of Monterrey to the U.S. border, officials said.
The bodies of 43 men and six women were found in the town of San Juan on the non-toll highway to the border city of Reynosa at about 4 a.m. (5 a.m. EDT; 0900 GMT), forcing police and troops to close off the highway. Nuevo Leon state security spokesman Jorge Domene said a banner left at the site left a threatening message in the name of the Zetas drug cartel.
The identities of the victims were not immediately clear. Domene said the fact they were found with their heads, hands and feet cut off will make identification difficult.
Attorney General Adrian de la Garza told a news conference he did not rule out the possibility they could be migrants. He said they could have been killed as long as two days ago at another location.
Mexican drug cartels have been waging an escalating war of terror as they battle to control smuggling routes, the local drug market and extortion rackets, including shakedowns of migrants seeking to reach the United States.
A drug gang allied with the Sinaloa cartel left 35 bodies were left at a freeway overpass in the city of Veracruz in September, and police found 32 other bodies, apparently killed by the same gang, two days after that. The goal apparently was to take over territory that had been dominated by the Zetas. Twenty-six bodies were found in November in Guadalajara, another territory being disputed by the Zetas and the Sinaloa group.
So far this month, 23 bodies were found dumped or hanging in the city of Nuevo Laredo and 18 were found along a highway south of Guadalajara.
Officials last year found 183 bodies in mass graves in the Tamaulipas state town of San Fernando. They were believed to have been migrants killed by the Zetas drug cartel. Another 72 migrants, many of them from Central America, were found slain in San Fernando in 2010.