MEXICO CITY -- The army charged Monday that the top leaders of the hyper-violent Zetas drug cartel ordered underlings to leave 49 mutilated bodies in a northern Mexico town square, then had banners hung around the country denying responsibility in an effort to have their enemies blamed for the massacre.
The allegation came during a news conference to present the alleged Zetas local leader detained in the killings, Daniel Jesus Elizondo Ramirez. He allegedly got orders from Zetas leaders Miguel-Angel Trevino Morales and Heriberto Lazcano to dump the bodies in the town square of Cadereyta in the border state of Nuevo Leon.
Brig. Gen. Edgar Luis Villegas said Elizondo Ramirez, despite his nickname of "El Loco," or the Crazy One, apparently got nervous about dumping the hacked-up bodies in the town and instead dumped them on a highway outside Cadereyta. The bodies with their heads, hands and feet hacked off were found May 13.
A video posted later on a Mexican website that covers drug crimes showed gunmen in the dark dumping the bodies and unfurling a banner claiming responsibility for the killings signed by the Zetas, who are locked in a battle with the rival Gulf and Sinaloa cartels. Villegas said another suspect who is still at large made the videotape.
In the days after the bodies were found, banners appeared on freeway overpasses in other Mexican states denying that the Zetas were responsible.
Villegas said the denials were part of a Zetas strategy to "cause confusion among authorities and the public" and put the blame on the cartel's rivals.
Elizondo Ramirez tried to escape arrest Friday by tossing a hand grenade at troops before they captured him in a suburb of the northern city of Monterrey, the general said. He is being held without charge at a special detention facility while prosecutors build their case against him.
Villegas said Elizondo Ramirez had confessed to killing members of the Gulf cartel and burning or burying their bodies in another area of Nuevo Leon.
He said Elizondo Ramirez also acknowledged accompanying Zetas second-in-command Miguel-Angel Trevino Morales to Guatemala in 2008 to assassinate a rival drug capo, Juan Jose "Juancho" Leon. Leon was killed in an ambush that year in the neighboring country, where the Zetas have expanded their operations in recent years.
An army soldier stands next to a banner displaying mug shots of persons detained or killed by the Mexican Army during the media presentation of Daniel Ramirez, alias "El Loco", not pictured, in Mexico City, Monday, May 21, 2012. Ramirez is believed to be a member of the Zetas drug cartel allegedly involved in the dumping of more than 40 hacked-up bodies on a highway outside the city of Cadereyta near Monterrey. The bodies with their heads, hands and feet hacked off were found May 13. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)
An Army soldier stands next to Daniel Ramirez, alias "El Loco," during his presentation to the media in Mexico City, Monday, May 21, 2012. Ramirez is believed to be a member of the Zetas drug cartel allegedly involved in the dumping of more than 40 hacked-up bodies on a highway outside the city of Cadereyta near Monterrey. The bodies with their heads, hands and feet hacked off were found May 13. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)
Mexican marines escort Marcos Jesus Hernandez Rodriguez, aka 'El Chilango', alleged leader of assassins and member of the Los Zetas drug cartel, in Veracruz state, during his presentation for the press in Mexico City on May 11, 2012. (YURI CORTEZ/AFP/GettyImages)
In this photo taken Monday, May 7, 2012, Maria Jimenez, nicknamed "La Tosca," or "the rough one" is presented to the media in Monterrey, Mexico. On Monday, authorities in the northern border state of Nuevo Leon announced they had captured Jimenez, the female leader of a local cell of the Zetas drug cartel, who is suspected of ordering or participating in at least 20 murders in or around the northern city of Monterrey. (AP Photo)
Fourteen alleged members of 'Los Zetas' drug cartel and seized weapons are presented to the press in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, Mexico on February 15, 2012. More than 40,000 people have been killed in rising drug-related violence in Mexico since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon deployed soldiers and federal police to take on organized crime. (Julio Cesar Aguilar/AFP/Getty Images)
A banner shows ink drawings of missing people at the National March for Dignity on the day Mexicans celebrate el Dia de La Madre, or Mother's Day, in Mexico City, Thursday, May 10, 2012. Mothers and other relatives of persons gone missing in the fight against drug cartels and organized crime are demanding that authorities locate their loved ones. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)
In this Dec. 21, 2010 file photo, weapons seized during a police and military raid are displayed in Coban, province of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. In Dec. 2010, the Guatemalan military declared a month long state of siege in Alta Verapaz in hopes of reclaiming cities that have been taken over by Mexico's Zetas drug gang. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)
Relatives mourn next to the coffin containing the remains of Jose Yovanny Bocel at an Air Force base in Guatemala City , Wednesday, March 21, 2012. The remains of 11 Guatemalan citizens were repatriated from Mexico Wednesday, part of 193 bodies found in the northern Mexico Tamaulipas state in 26 mass graves in April 2011. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Natalia Andres Lopez, left, and another relative, mourn over the coffin containing the body of her cousin, at an Air Force base in Guatemala City , Wednesday, March 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)