Drug cartel
In Mexico the term "disappearing'" is used to describe a killing or kidnapping after which victims' bodies are never discovered (representational photo) Reuters

A 29-year-old hitman for a drug cartel in Mexico has revealed that in the past nine years he has killed 30 people. He, however, says he is not a professional killer but raises cattle for a living although he is paid for "disappearing" people.

In Mexico the term "disappearing" is used to describe a killing or kidnapping after which victims' bodies are never discovered. The unnamed hitman knows what he does is illegal but in doing so he believes he is keeping his neighbourhood safe from other drug cartels.

"A lot of times your neighborhood, your town, your city is being invaded by people who you think are going to hurt your family, your society," the killer told Associated Press in an interview, wearing a ski mask with his voice distorted. "Well, then you have to act, because the government isn't going to come help you".

The killer says "he sometimes feels sorry about the work he does but has no regrets" because he is defending his community from other cartels.

Drug cartel
The unnamed  Mexican hitman says he does not "disappear" people for ransom and does not kill women or children (representational photo) Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

People are "disappeared" when they are from rival gangs, if someone hands out information to other cartels, for security reasons or for ransom, according to the killer. He says he does not disappear people for ransom or kill women or children. Besides, he says he does not make his victims dig their own graves.

The best place to kidnap a person is from his home early in the morning, "when everyone is asleep", says the hitman. An unarmed target can be kidnapped by just two people, while armed targets need more manpower, he says. After the kidnapping, the target is taken to a safe house where he is tortured for information. "With time, you come to learn how to hurt people, to get the information you need," he says.

The hired gun says, "99% will give you that information." Once they do he kills them "usually with a gun". The dead are buried in places such as graveyards, thrown in oceans or burned. But, if a cartel wants to send a message to another cartel then the bodies are dumped in public places.

He says no one forced him to do this kind of work and his parents and siblings — he guesses — might know what he does as he is always armed. The killer fears death but more than that he fears being captured by a rival cartel. He would like to start a family but one cannot "make plans for the future, because you don't know what will happen tomorrow", he says. "It's not a pretty life."

According to government figures, 26,000 people have gone missing in Mexico since 2007. In the same period 1,000 people have gone missing from the state of Guerrero. Besides, 24 people have gone missing from the Costa Grande, the area from where the killer operates.

"The [disappeared] problem is much bigger than people think," the man says.