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Slain Mexico drug chief's body stolen

Mexican authorities have confirmed that the body of the Zetas drug cartel boss Heriberto Lazcano has been stolen from a funeral home. Mexico's second most wanted man was killed in a shootout with navy forces on Sunday.

Armed gunmen raided the funeral parlour in the town of Sabinas in the northern state of Coahuila in the early hours of Monday morning, state prosecutor Homero Ramos confirmed on Tuesday. Lazcano's corpse was taken alongside the body of a fellow Zetas member, Ramos told a press conference.

"A masked, armed group overpowered the personnel, took the bodies and forced the owner of the funeral home to drive the get-away vehicle," he said.

Lazcano was reportedly killed just hours earlier during a gun battle between the gang and naval special forces. In a statement released on Tuesday the navy said fingerprints and photographs had been used to identify the body as Lazcano's before it was stolen.

"The facial features coincide with those of Herberto Lazacano," the Navy said, adding that experts were still examining "information and samples taken during the autopsy."

It appears, however, that authorities had been unaware of his identity before the body was stolen and local authorities have declined to reveal whether the funeral home was being guarded. A spokesman for the funeral home has also refused to comment on how the corpses were taken.

Blow to the Zetas cartel

Lazcano, known as "The Executioner," had a $5 million (3.9 million euro) US bounty on his head. He was the highest profile drug lord to be killed or captured since the government launched a military offensive against drug cartels in 2006.

President Felipe Calderon praised the navy for its successful operation on Tuesday, describing Lazcano as "one of the biggest and most dangerous" drug lords in Mexico. He made no comment, however, on the theft of the bodies.

The Zetas drug cartel is considered one of the two most powerful drug gangs in Mexico. Lazcano's death will come as a blow to the organization, which alongside the Pacific region's Sinaloa federation, has carried out some of the worst atrocities in Mexico's bloody drugs war. Some 60,000 people have been killed in the conflict since Calderon took office in 2006.

ccp/jm (AFP, Reuters)