MEXICO CITY (AP) — A gruesome video circulated Wednesday on social media may have recorded the last moments of five kidnapped young men, and has transported Mexico back to the darkest days of drug cartel brutality in the 2000s.
Prosecutors in the western state of Jalisco say they are investigating the video, and relatives of the missing group of young friends told local media that their clothing resembled that worn by the men in the video.
The most horrifying thing is not just the pair of bound, inert bodies seen lying in the foreground. It is the fact that the youth seen bludgeoning and apparently decapitating another victim appears to be himself the fourth member of the kidnapped group of friends.
The fifth member of the kidnapped group — young friends who had traveled to attend a festival in the city of Lagos de Moreno in Jalisco state — may be the body police found inside a burned-out car in the area. The young men went missing Friday in an area known for cartel violence, and authorities have mounted a massive search for them.
Luis Méndez Ruiz, the Jalisco state attorney general, said Tuesday that the men seen in the video “could be the five men who are being searched for.”
“This video and the information that was made public on a social media platform is now part of the investigation,” Méndez said. The clothing worn by the men in the video also resembles a photo of them alive, but bound, that was released earlier.
The likelihood that the video was authentic increased further Wednesday, when investigators raided a series of brick and concrete ranch buildings where the brutal scene was apparently taped. They found bloodstains on the floor and shoes scattered about.
“This makes one think the five youths were there at this ranch,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement.
The video features a text written over the image that says “Puro MZ,” an apparent reference to El Mayo Zambada, the leader of a faction of the Sinaloa drug cartel. But it was unclear who was responsible for the video.
Jalisco Gov. Enrique Alfaro said it was clear that drug cartels were involved in the crime, and called for federal prosecutors to take over the case.
“What we are seeing here is an act clearly linked to organized crime,” Alfaro wrote in his social media accounts.
He called the killings — and an attack in July, in which a drug cartel set off a coordinated series of roadway bombs in western Mexico killing four police officers and two civilians — acts that threaten the state’s stability.
“These are irrational, violent and direct attacks against the stability of Jalisco state, and they demand a reaction from the (federal) government,” Alfaro wrote.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador gave no indication that his government will intervene anytime soon. Asked about the video Wednesday at his daily news briefing, the president jokingly pretended he had not heard the question.
If confirmed, the video — which shows someone off-screen tossing the youth a brick, so he can bludgeon the victim with it — would revive memories of the most horrifying instances of drug cartel brutality, in which kidnap victims were forced to kill each other.
In 2010, one Mexican cartel abducted men from passenger buses and forced them to fight each other to death with sledgehammers.
That tragedy came to light in 2011, when authorities found 48 clandestine graves containing the bodies of 193 people in the northern border state of Tamaulipas. Most had their skulls crushed with sledgehammers, and many were Central American migrants.
It was later revealed the victims had been pulled off passing buses by the old Zetas drug cartel, and forced to fight each other with hammers or be killed, if they refused to work for the cartel.