Mexico captures Los Zetas suspect linked to a series of mass murders

Salvador Alfonso Martinez

DAVID MAUNG / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS 2006

MEXICO CITY - Mexico's navy said Monday that it had captured a crime boss whom it believes is responsible for a series of heinous mass murders in Mexico as well as the 2010 disappearance of David Hartley, a U.S. citizen apparently shot on his motorized ski on a lake that straddles the border with Texas.

In a news conference, masked naval commandos displayed Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobedo, 31, also known by the nickname "El Ardilla," The Squirrel.

Martinez is thought to be the operations chief along the Texas-Mexico border of the Los Zetas crime syndicate, Mexico's most bloodthirsty, if not most powerful, criminal enterprise.

Naval spokesman Jose Luis Vergara said Martinez served as operations chief for Los Zetas in the states of Coahuila, Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, all of which share a border with Texas.

Vergara read off a series of crimes that authorities contend Martinez ordered:

• The executions of 72 undocumented migrants at a rural compound near San Fernando in Tamaulipas state in August 2010.

• The killings of 200 people whose bodies were found in mass graves in Tamaulipas early last year.

• A mass jailbreak in Piedras Negras in mid-September in which 130 inmates escaped, many of them allegedly gangsters for the crime group. Vergara also linked Martinez to a December 2010 jailbreak that saw 151 inmates flee a Nuevo Laredo prison.

• The apparent slaying of Hartley on Falcon Lake along the Texas border. Hartley and his wife were riding personal watercraft on Sept. 30, 2010, when, she says, gunmen shot at them, killing her husband. His body was never recovered.

After Hartley's shooting, Vergara said, Martinez ordered the assassination of a state investigator, Rolando Armando Flores, probing Hartley's disappearance.

Martinez also executed "more than 50 people with his own hand," Vergara said.

Only scanty details were offered of how Martinez fell into the hands of a naval unit in Nuevo Laredo, a city across the border from Laredo, Texas. Vergara said a vehicle with a driver carrying a weapon was spotted Saturday at dusk in the city's El Campanario district, and the naval team chased it.

When the vehicle was trapped, Martinez got out, letting a weapon fall to the ground. Five other men also were arrested.