At the time of the Zetas formation in the early 2000s, as an armed wing of the Gulf Cartel, little seemed to distinguish the group from scores of predecessors and contemporaries. Mexico‘s cartels have long deployed teams of shock troops willing to engage in all manner of brutality to further the collective cause. The Zetas seemed like yet another permutation of what had become a standard feature of the Mexican underworld.
But there were early signs that the Zetas were not a run-of-the-mill outfit of toughs. Their roots in the special forces of Mexico’s army, including reports that founding members had received training from the United States, bestowed upon them an air of sinister competence. This was coupled with an unprecedented emphasis on firepower.