The escape of over 130 prisoners from a jail in Coahuila, north Mexico, may have been organized by the Zetas drug gang in order to supply themselves with more manpower, according to local authorities.
The head of Coahuila state's Secretariat of Public Security (SSP), Jorge Luis Moran, told the Associated Press that the Zetas were "clearly" behind the escape of 131 inmates from the Cereso prison in Piedras Negras on 17 September. Seven have since been recaptured, leaving 124 at large, reported El Universal.
Moran said that he learned of the Zetas' involvement in the plot from other inmates, who told him that some prisoners who didn't belong to the gang were forced to go along with the escape. "[The Zetas] are running out of people," Moran added.
It was originally reported that 132 people had escaped. Some 5,000 police and military personnel have been deployed to find the escapees who, according to Milenio, may have fled to Tamulipas state in the northeast, a Zetas stronghold.
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If Moran's claims are true, it would be the second mass breakout orchestrated by the Zetas this year. In February, 30 alleged Zetas escaped from a prison near Monterrey after using the slaughter of 44 fellow inmates as a distraction.
Analyst Alberto Islas told BBC Mundo that the Zetas often organize breakouts to replenish their ranks, as it means they can re-integrate experienced members into the organization. Since May 2008, the gang has reportedly been responsible for the escape of some 546 inmates, all in the north of the country, according to El Economista.
This figure would constitute nearly 80 percent of the more than 700 prisoners who have fled Mexico's troubled penitentiary system in the last six years.
The Zetas are reportedly in the midst of a split between two of its leaders, Heriberto Lazcano, alias “Z-3”, and Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, alias “Z-40.” It is not clear which faction may have been responsible for the prison break.