At least 141 inmates escaped from a Mexican prison near the US border on Friday, deepening alarm in a region suffering extreme violence from rival drug gangs.
“Early investigations show the inmates left through the service entrance for vehicles and were obviously helped by prison staff; there’s no doubt about that,” Tamaulipas state Public Safety Secretary Antonio Garza said.
He said at least 141 inmates fled the penitentiary in Nuevo Laredo, lowering an earlier estimate of 159 a prison official had given earlier. Media reports said as many as 190 prisoners fled.
The prison warden was “listed as missing” after the break-out, he said, without adding further detail.
Garza said the massive escape from Nuevo Laredo’s Punishment Center went unnoticed until a routine head count late on Thursday. The break-out from the facility in the northeastern Mexican city — which lies just across the Rio Grande from the city of Laredo in Texas — was one of the biggest in Mexico in recent years.
The last big escape was on Sept. 10 in Reynosa, when 85 inmates fled. In March, 41 prisoners fled in Matamoros — both cities are on the US border.
Between January and September, more than 340 prisoners have escaped from prisons in Tamaulipas state, where Nuevo Laredo is located, according to public security officials.
The interior ministry blamed the latest break-out on the Tamaulipas government for the “deplorable lack of effective security and control measures in [the state’s] prison facilities.”
Garza shot back pointing out that his administration “has repeatedly requested help from federal authorities” to upgrade its maximum security prisons that house some of Mexico’s most dangerous criminals.
One of seven Mexican states bordering the US, Tamaulipas is prime battleground between the Golfo and Los Zetas drug cartels, whose rivalry often leads to bloody shoot-outs on city streets.
The whole northern border area is the scene of a bloody struggle between two heavily armed gangs, the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, according to officials.
Rising lawlessness as the cartels battle it out for lucrative smuggling routes into the US, and engaging in clashes with Mexican police and military, have raised concerns on both sides of the border.
Extra Mexican police and troops have been brought in to reinforce security at prisons.