MEXICO CITY -- The Mexican navy on Monday announced the capture of an alleged Zetas field commander who it accused of numerous high-profile crimes, including the possible murder of an American who disappeared while reportedly jet-skiing on a border lake two years ago.
The suspect, Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobedo, alias the Squirrel, was paraded before reporters in a televised presentation in Mexico City. Without offering evidence, naval spokesman Vice Admiral Jose Luis Vergara alleged that Martinez was linked to a long string of crimes, including the 2010 execution of 72 migrants, mostly from Central America, in the northern state of Tamaulipas as well as two massive prison breaks, also in Tamaulipas, in which nearly 200 inmates escaped.
Vergara identified Martinez as a regional commander of the notorious Zetas paramilitary force and close confidant of top Zetas capo Miguel Angel Trevino. He said Martinez was suspected in overseeing several secret mass graves containing some 200 victims and of executing 50 people "with his own hands."
In addition to Martinez's other alleged crimes, Vergara said he was "presumed responsible" for the possible killing of David Hartley, a 30-year-old Colorado native. Hartley disappeared Sept. 30, 2010, on what his wife, Tiffany, described as a jet-ski outing on Falcon Lake, which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border south of the Tamaulipas city of Nuevo Laredo. No body was found, and the only version of events came from Tiffany Hartley.
A top Mexican investigator of the incident was killed shortly thereafter -- also by Martinez, Vergara alleged Monday.
Vergara said Martinez was captured Saturday in Nuevo Laredo several hours after a shootout with navy special forces who eventually intercepted the car in which he was traveling.
Martinez seemed nearly buoyant at the meeting with journalists, offering a tight smile, nodding vigorously to reporters' questions, flashing a thumbs-up and pumping his handcuffed fists in the air as he was led away. A reward of slightly more than $1 million had been offered for his capture.
His arrest is the latest in several important blows dealt by the Mexican military to both the Zetas and their former patron, the Gulf Cartel.
-- Tracy Wilkinson
Photo: Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobedo, alias "the Squirrel," is presented before reporters in Mexico City on Monday. Martinez is suspected in a string of high-profile crimes. Credit: Mario Guzman / European Pressphoto Agency