Image: Forensic workers carry a body
Agencia Rubios News  /  Reuters
Forensic workers carry a body found in a mass grave in Matamoros on Monday, April 11.
By
updated 4/12/2011 7:05:41 PM ET 2011-04-12T23:05:41

Mexican investigators have found a total of 116 bodies in pits near the U.S. border, 28 more than previously reported, Attorney General Marisela Morales said Tuesday.

Morales said a total of 17 suspects tied to the brutal Zetas drug gang have been detained in relation to the killings in the northern state of Tamaulipas, some of whom have purportedly confessed to abducting passengers from buses and killing them.

Interior Secretary Francisco Blake Mora pledged to step up the presence of troops and federal police in the area where the killings occurred and not leave the area until the killers and drug gang members there have been caught.

"Organized crime, in its desperation, resorts to committing atrocities that we can't and shouldn't tolerate as a government and as a society," Blake said.

The graves were found earlier this month in the township of San Fernando, the same area of Tamaulipas where investigators found the bodies of 72 migrants massacred by suspected drug cartel gunmen last August. Most of the 72 migrants were Central Americans, who frequently travel through the area to reach the United States.

Police say witnesses in the latest killing case have told them that gunmen pulled the victims, mostly young men, off passenger buses traveling through the San Fernando area in late March. Authorities blame the abductions on the Zetas drug gang, the same group accused in the migrant killings.

The motive for the bus abductions remains unclear, though prosecutors have suggested the gang may have been forcefully recruiting people to work for it.

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.

The Zetas and rival Gulf Cartel are fighting in Tamaulipas over lucrative drug transit routes to the U.S.

Authorities are working to identify the bodies, one of which may belong to a U.S. citizen, through DNA samples and other techniques.

One of the bodies is a Guatemalan man, the government of that Central American nation said.

The victim has been identified as Feliciano Tagual Ovalle, 44, the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry said in a statement late Monday. The statement did not say whether the man was a migrant passing through or a resident of Mexico. It said the Guatemalan government planned to bring the body home.

Mexican authorities confirmed one victim was Guatemalan and said another was a man from central Mexico. Mexican prosecutors had previously said most of the bodies were probably Mexican citizens.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Mexican drug cartels target children

  1. Closed captioning of: Mexican drug cartels target children

    >>> mexican drug cartels are sinking to a new low. murdering children to terrorize the community and to scare rival gangs. a children's rights group now estimates 994 children under the age of 18 were killed in drug-related violence between 2006 and 2010 . jose diaz anchors the signature newscast. always good to see you, jose. historically, i thought children were off limits but the stories are brutal. one child was actually shot while cradled in his grandmother's arms. what is going on here?

    >> they have stopped respecting any level of humanity. you remember the scene in the godfather when the hollywood producer wakes up one morning and he opens the sheets in his bed and there is a horse's head as a message? that's what these drug cartels are doing, but they're using little children . as you say, chris , brilliantly, by the way. they're not only terrorizing the community, they are trying to establish terror and respect by using dead children with rival drug cartel gangs. so, what happens is that the civilian population, especially the northern border towns of mexico is literally living in this incredible level of fear. it's terrorism in its finest form when they're usiing little children as essentially the horse in the godfather movie.

    >> this hike in violence, he thinks, is actually a sign of success in the fight against drugs. do you buy that?

    >> yeah. a certain element of history. look, chris , chris look what happened in columbia during the '80s. i mean when the government got serious and went after these people and the dea was very, very involved in helping the columbian government dealing with these narco terrorists who have all the money in the world and multi-national corporations. once that battle went head on against the drug cartels . a huge spike in violence. but as you start taking down these cartel leaders, i mean, these aren't road scholars, by any stretch of the imagination. but they do have some organizational skills that the rest of the thugs don't necessarily have. so, when you start taking out one and the other and the other. the first thing is they react against the government and the second thing is, they react within them selves to be the next one to get power. so, it's a natural evolution. the problem is that the collateral damage is children. and women and people who have absolutely nothing to do and, yet, they are terrorized. chris , we were talking about this earlier, 88 bodies so far found about 80 miles from the u.s. border in mexico and they don't know who they are, but they could be the work of the stew maker, a guy who was practically proud, he was caught of getting the victims of the drug cartels and dipping them in acid. these are the kind of people we're dealing with in the border.

    >> jose diaz with a real reality check there. thanks. always great to see you. you can catch jose on noticiero each week night at 6:30

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