MEXICO CITY -- A suspect in the kidnapping and killing of bus passengers near the U.S. border led Mexican soldiers to another set of clandestine graves containing 16 bodies, bringing to 88 the number of corpses found in mass pits in the northern state of Tamaulipas.
The latest batch of bodies was found in four pits in the township of San Fernando, where prosecutors had previously found 72 corpses in 10 pits, the Defense Department said in a statement Sunday.
When detained, Armando Morales Uscanga had a rifle and almost $3,000 in cash, the statement said, adding that he told soldiers he had participated in kidnapping passengers on March 24 and 29 in the township of San Fernando, Tamaulipas.
He also said he had helped kill and bury 43 people found in pits April 6.
San Fernando is a town about 90 miles (145 kilometers) south of Brownsville, Texas, on a well-traveled stretch of highway that runs near the Gulf Coast. It is an area regularly patrolled by the Mexican military.
It was the second-such gruesome find in less than a year: In August, investigators found the bodies of 72 migrants in San Fernando.
The federal Attorney General's Office said there was evidence that most of the suspects belonged to the Zetas drug gang, the same group blamed for the August massacre. Some were detained with military-style uniforms, and others were found driving a pickup truck displaying false Mexican navy insignia.
Fourteen men and two women, including local leaders of the gang, have been detained as suspects in the latest cases, the federal Attorney General's Office said in a statement. The Zetas and rival Gulf Cartel are fighting in Tamaulipas over lucrative drug transit routes to the U.S. The state shares three major border cities with Brownsville, Laredo, and McAllen, Texas. Prosecutors say the kidnappings may have been part of a forced-recruitment effort by the Zetas gang.
Dozens of families and passengers complained of gunmen pulling people, mostly young men, off intercity travel buses starting in late March, leading investigators to last week's grisly discovery.
Authorities are working to identify the bodies, one of which may belong to a U.S. citizen, through DNA samples and other techniques.
A warden's message posted on the website of the U.S. Consulate in the Tamaulipas city of Matamoros on Sunday said that a U.S. citizen was among dozens of men who witnesses said were pulled off passenger buses by armed attackers in Tamaulipas. The statement did not say exactly when or where the man went missing.