MEXICO CITY — Forensic workers have recovered 51 bodies, some burned and mutilated, from a mass grave believed linked to Mexico's raging drug war, authorities said Saturday.
The site near a trash dump in the northern border state of Nuevo Leon is the second-largest clandestine grave found in recent weeks.
Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina said most of the dead were probably drug traffickers killed in fighting with rivals. But he acknowledged that the bodies had yet to be identified.
"They could have been people linked to organized crime, (killed in) a clash, in the war that the cartels are fighting among themselves," he told reporters.
"It undoubtedly shows the level of violence with which they confront each other."
At least three women were among the dead, authorities said, and the rest were men, aged between 20 and 50 and many bearing tattoos.
"The tattoos may tell us if they belonged to one group or the other," Adrian de la Garza, head of a state police agency, told Milenio television. DNA testing may be used to identify some of the dead, he added.
Some of the bodies were burned and some were dismembered. Several had their hands tied with rope or cords. They didn't appear to have been dead for more than 15 days, De la Garza said.
Digging began Thursday, when a military patrol reported seeing body parts and disturbed dirt in a field near the town of Juarez, and concluded Saturday. Workers used backhoes to move the earth and refrigerated trucks to hold the corpses.
De la Garza said several other graves appeared to be at the same site, suggesting that the number of dead could rise.
About 25,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon launched a military-led offensive against powerful drug cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006.
Calderon has said most of the dead are traffickers, but victims also include police, soldiers, mayors and civilians. Most killings are not investigated.
In late May, another mass grave, at an abandoned silver mine near the picturesque city of Taxco, yielded 55 bodies.