The 18 heads were found along with other dismembered body parts in two vans abandoned in the municipality of Ixtlahuacan De Los Membrillos along the Chapara-Guadalajara Highway. Some had been frozen, others were covered in lime, and the rest were found in an advanced state of decomposition.
According to a report by EFE, municipal police said they found a message in one van, apparently from the Zetas, that threatened Sinaloa Cartel leaders. The Sinaloans are currently challenging the Zetas' control of one of their traditional strongholds in the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo, in Tamaulipas state. Jalisco State Attorney General Tomas Coronado Olmos told Milenio the killings may be an act of retribution for the recent wave of violence in Tamualipas that left 23 dead on May 4 in Nuevo Laredo.
Coronado added that the beheadings may be linked a mass kidnapping recently carried out by the Zetas in Jalisco. The Zetas were reportedly holding a group of hostages in a rural safehouse, but two detainees managed to escape and contact the police, who then rescued another ten hostages on May 8, according to El Universal's report. Among those 12 hostages, Coronado said some had no links to organized crime and had been released to their families.
Coronado said that some of the severed heads and human remains discovered May 9 could belong to other kidnap victims who were held alongside the 12 rescued hostages. According to El Occidental, the Zetas may have been holding as many as 27 people in the safehouse where the rescue took place.
Examining the other body parts found in the vans, forensic investigators said not all these remains belonged to the 18 victims whose heads were severed, suggesting there may be a higher death toll.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel, likely the largest criminal organizations in Mexico, have been locked in a vicious struggle for Nuevo Laredo, a key border crossing that the Sinaloa Cartel is seeking to wrest from the Zetas. Zetas gunmen have also challenged their rivals on their home turf in Sinaloa state. These powerful groups appear to be making bold incursions into one another's territory, sparking retaliatory attacks across the country.
If the gruesome massacre in Jalisco was indeed an act of revenge for another massacre that took place some 800 kilometers away (see map), this points to the bitterness of the conflict between the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel. The intensity of their rivalry may have prompted the Zetas to take innocent victims hostage, as suggested by Jalisco's attorney general.
While authorities suspect the massacre was an act of revenge, Jalisco state is a prize all its own. Traditional territory of the Sinaloa Cartel, there are an estimated six gangs currently fighting for dominance here. But despite the number of criminal actors on the ground, the brutality of this latest atrocity certainly fits the style of the Zetas, who are infamous for their use of bloody terror tactics.
View InSight Map: 18 Killed in Jalisco in a larger map