At least 20 dead af­ter Mex­ico gang at­tack near US bor­der

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD -

MEX­ICO CITY — Mex­i­can se­cu­rity forces on Sun­day killed seven more mem­bers of a pre­sumed car­tel as­sault force that rolled into a town near the Texas bor­der and staged an hour­long at­tack, of­fi­cials said, put­ting the over­all death toll at 20.

The Coahuila state gov­ern­ment said in a state­ment that law­men aided by heli­copters were still chas­ing rem­nants of the force that ar­rived in a con­voy of pick­ups and at­tacked the city hall of Villa Union on Satur­day.

Gov. Miguel An­gel Riquelme said Sun­day af­ter­noon that au­thor­i­ties had de­ter­mined the ca­su­alty count from the gun­bat­tles stood at 14 gun­men dead and four po­lice of­fi­cers killed. He said two civil­ians also were slain by gun­men af­ter be­ing ab­ducted.

The gov­er­nor said six more of­fi­cers were wounded as were four young peo­ple who had been taken by the at­tack­ers.

The rea­son for the mil­i­tary-style at­tack re­mained un­clear. Car­tels have been con­tend­ing for con­trol of smug­gling routes in north­ern Mex­ico, but there was no im­me­di­ate ev­i­dence that a ri­val car­tel had been tar­geted in Villa Union.

Ear­lier Sun­day, the state gov­ern­ment had is­sued a state­ment say­ing seven at­tack­ers were killed Sun­day in ad­di­tion to seven who died Satur­day. It had said three other bod­ies had not been iden­ti­fied, but its later state­ment low­ered the to­tal deaths to 20.

The gov­er­nor said the armed group — at least some in mil­i­tary style garb — stormed the town of 3,000 res­i­dents in a con­voy of trucks, at­tack­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fices and prompt­ing state and fed­eral forces to in­ter­vene. Bul­letrid­dled trucks left aban­doned in the streets were marked C.D.N. — Span­ish ini­tials of the Car­tel of the North­east gang.

Sev­eral of the gun­men stole ve­hi­cles as they fled and kid­napped lo­cals to help guide them on dirt tracks out of town, the gov­er­nor said. At least one of the stolen ve­hi­cles was a hearse headed for a funeral, ac­cord­ing to the news­pa­per Zocalo of Saltillo.

The town is about 35 miles from Ea­gle Pass, Texas, and 12 miles from the town of Al­lende — site of a 2011 mas­sacre in­volv­ing the Ze­tas car­tel in which of­fi­cials say 70 died.

Rapid gun­fire could be heard in videos posted to so­cial me­dia along with fran­tic peo­ple telling friends to stay in­doors. Images of the af­ter­math of the shootout showed burned out ve­hi­cles, while the fa­cade of Villa Union’s city hall was rid­dled with bul­lets.

The gov­er­nor said se­cu­rity forces would re­main in the town for sev­eral days.

Falko Ernst, se­nior Mex­ico an­a­lyst for the non­profit Cri­sis Group, which seeks to pro­mote peace, said there are few in­cen­tives for armed groups in the coun­try to re­frain from vi­o­lence.

“Solv­ing this is­sue — which un­der­pins im­punity — would have to be the cen­ter­piece of an in­te­grated se­cu­rity strat­egy. But such a thing is yet to be pre­sented by (Pres­i­dent An­dres Manuel) Lopez Obrador and his team,” said Ernst.

Mex­ico’s mur­der rate has in­creased to his­tor­i­cally high lev­els, inch­ing up by 2% in the first 10 months of Obrador’s pres­i­dency. Fed­eral of­fi­cials said re­cently that there have been 29,414 homi­cides so far in 2019, com­pared to 28,869 in the same pe­riod of 2018.

The Novem­ber slaugh­ter by Mex­i­can drug car­tel gun­men of three women who held U.S. cit­i­zen­ship and six of their chil­dren fo­cused world at­ten­tion on the ris­ing vi­o­lence.

Satur­day’s at­tack also showed car­tels again re­sort­ing to quasi-mil­i­tary op­er­a­tions in a brazen chal­lenge to state au­thor­ity.

In Oc­to­ber, a mas­sive oper­a­tion by the Si­naloa car­tel prompted the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to re­lease the cap­tured son of a drug lord and pull back the army, which found it­self out­ma­neu­vered on the streets of Cu­li­a­can.

Pres­i­dent Donald Trump said last week that he plans to des­ig­nate Mex­i­can drug car­tels as ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions, though he de­clined to say what ac­tions might fol­low that des­ig­na­tion.

Mex­i­can of­fi­cials have op­posed such a des­ig­na­tion, wor­ried it could lead to uni­lat­eral U.S. in­ter­ven­tions in its ter­ri­tory.

GERARDO SANCHEZ/AP

The city hall of Villa Union, Mex­ico, is seen af­ter a gun bat­tle be­tween se­cu­rity forces and a sus­pected gang.

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