The state government said the gunmen evidently wanted to take the body of Angel Enrique Uscanga, nicknamed "The Pokemon," identified as the leader of the brutal gang in that region.
The gunmen shot at Marines from a vehicle after they arrived late Friday in the city of Cordoba at the building, where authorities were keeping the bodies of Uscanga and four others who had died in a firefight with the military. The Marines shot back and killed the four armed men, said a government statement. Authorities confiscated a grenade and other weapons.
In October, Zetas cartel leader Heriberto Lazcano was shot by Mexican Marines in northern Mexico and his body was stolen from a funeral home 12 hours afterward. It raised doubts in Mexico about whether the feared drug lord had really been killed, but officials said fingerprints and photographs taken before the theft proved he was slain.
Veracruz officials say Uscanga and the other four men had been killed in a confrontation with the military last Thursday, but the government didn't offer many details of that gunfight other than it also happened in the city of Cordoba. The Marines there seized six rifles, a rocket and a rocket launcher.
Hundreds of Marines were deployed to Veracruz in 2011 after drug violence began to rise as gangs allied to the Sinaloa Cartel began fighting the dominant Zetas, a paramilitary organized-crime group founded by ex-members of the Mexican special forces.