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Rise in beheadings in Mexico – sign of splintering drug gangs?

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• Insight Crime researches, analyzes, and investigates organized crime in the Americas. Find all of Elyssa Pachico’s work here.

According to Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office, conflict between organized criminal groups has resulted in the beheading of 1,303 people in five years, a grisly tactic becoming the hallmark of the war between the country's cartels.

El Universal reported that decapitations steadily increased during President Felipe Calderon’s term in office: Just 32 beheadings were registered in 2007, while 2011 registered 493 such deaths between January and November.

The count will likely be similarly high for 2012. Last May saw the discovery of 49 headless and dismembered bodies in Nuevo Leon state, attributed to the Zetas, who are closely associated with the tactic.

According to El Universal, the border states most affected by drug violence are also the ones that see the greatest number of victims beheaded. Chihuahua state registered 171 such killings during Calderon’s term, followed by Guerrero (149), Tamaulipas (119), Durango (115), and Sinaloa (89).

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