Skip to main content

30 prisoners escape after riot in northern Mexico, governor says

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:13 PM EST, Mon February 20, 2012
Dozens of people gather outside a prison in northern Mexico to find out if their family members were killed in a riot.
Dozens of people gather outside a prison in northern Mexico to find out if their family members were killed in a riot.
  • NEW: A Zetas cartel leader is among the escapees, officials say
  • Authorities are offering a reward for information leading to their capture
  • The prison's director and 18 guards are under investigation
  • 44 people were killed in clashes at the northern Mexico prison Sunday

Monterrey, Mexico (CNN) -- Dozens died and 30 inmates escaped during a weekend prison riot in northern Mexico, an official said Monday.

The prison's director and 18 guards have been removed from their positions and are under investigation, Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina told reporters.

"There is no doubt that without the help of prison officials, it would have been very hard to make this escape. ... For us, it is difficult to confirm that the betrayal, corruption and complicity of a few can hinder the work of good police, soldiers and sailors who risk their lives daily for the security of Nuevo Leon's residents," he said.

Authorities are offering a reward of 10 million pesos (about $788,000) for information leading to the escapees' capture, Medina said. Preliminary reports indicate the escapees were members of the Zetas drug cartel, he said.

A fierce rivalry between drug cartels likely fueled the fighting that killed 44 people Sunday inside the prison in Apodaca, Nuevo Leon, state security spokesman Jorge Domene told reporters.

At least two Zetas leaders, including the suspected head of the cartel in the nearby industrial city of Monterrey, were among the prisoners who escaped, according to Mexican military records.

Prisoners could have used the riot to engineer their breakout, Domene said Sunday. He did not say how prisoners inside acquired the clubs, stones and sharp objects they used in the fighting.

Earlier Sunday, Domene said inmates had taken a guard hostage as clashes broke out at the prison. Some prisoners also set mattresses ablaze, sending smoke rising above the facility, he said.

Federal and state police surrounded the prison as anxious family members awaited information outside its gates.

The clashes, which occurred in a part of the prison where most inmates were serving time for federal drug trafficking offenses, might have begun as a fight between the Zetas and Gulf cartels, Domene said.

The Zetas started with deserters from the Mexican Army and quickly gained a reputation for ruthless violence as the armed branch of Mexico's Gulf cartel. The partnership ended in 2010, and turf battles between the rival cartels are common in northern Mexico.

State officials have asked Mexico's interior ministry to transfer inmates connected with federal offenses out of the prison, which has become significantly overcrowded as authorities crack down on organized crime, Medina said Monday.

The Apodaca prison was housing about 3,000 prisoners at the time of Sunday's riot, Domene said Sunday.

Last year, 14 inmates were killed and 35 people were injured in a fire in the prison's psychiatric ward.

Nearly half of Mexico's 428 penitentiary centers are overcrowded, according to federal police statistics.

After more than 350 people died in a fire in a Honduran prison last week, a United Nations official said widespread overcrowding was one factor behind a recent wave of violence in Latin American prisons.

"These events reflect an alarming pattern of prison violence in the region, which is a direct consequence of -- or aggravated by -- a range of endemic problems including chronic prison overcrowding, the lack of access to basic services such as adequate floor space, potable water, food, health care and lack of basic sanitary and hygienic standards," Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the high commissioner for human rights, said in a statement.

In Mexico, prison expert Jose Luis Musi said conditions remain ripe for more violence.

"There are many factors," he said. "There is overpopulation, there is complicity and there is a lack of security."

CNN's Rey Rodriguez in Mexico City, journalist Victor Badillo in Monterrey and contributed to this report.

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.