At least 21 killed in Mexico gun battles
At least 17 suspected gunmen and four police officers were killed during weekend gunfights in the state of Coahuila, Mexico, about an hour from the U.S. border.
An armed group, presumed to be part of the Cartel of the Northeast, initially stormed the town of Villa Union Saturday and opened fire on government buildings, including the city hall, according to officials.
Police officers, both state and federal, engaged the gunmen for more than an hour, Coahuila Governor Miguel Angel Riquelme said.
Four officers were killed and 10 gunmen died in the shootout, Riquelme said.
Another seven suspected cartel members were killed in another shootout early Sunday, bringing the death toll to at least 21.
Six officers were injured in the shootings, the governor said.
Several people have also been declared missing, including some who were at the mayor’s office when gunfire first erupted Saturday.
Several of the gunmen escaped the scene in stolen vehicles and even kidnapped locals in order to navigate out of the town, the governor said. A hearse headed for a funeral was among the stolen cars, according to the newspaper Zocalo of Saltillo.
The Coahuila state government said in a statement that lawmen aided by helicopters were still chasing remnants of the group of attackers.
The motives behind the attack remained unclear Sunday. Cartels are in a power struggle over control of smuggling routes in northern Mexico, but there was no immediate evidence that a rival cartel had been targeted in Villa Union.
The attack was reminiscent of a successful military-style operation by the
Sinaloa cartel in the city of Culiacan in October to free one of the sons of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman from federal custody.
The shootouts come just days after President Trump announced a plan to designate drug cartels based in Mexico as terrorist groups after nine Americans were killed in a November shooting.
“Look, we’re losing 100,000 people a year to what’s happening and what’s coming through on Mexico,” Trump said on Bill O’Reilly’s radio show, speaking of American lives. “And they have unlimited money, the people, the cartels, because they have a lot of money because it’s drug money and human trafficking money.”
Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador responded Friday, insisting he would not allow any foreign intervention.
“Armed foreigners cannot intervene in our territory,” he said at a press conference.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr is scheduled to travel to Mexico this month to discuss security cooperation.
Almost 20,000 people have been victims of violent deaths since Lopez Obrador took office in December 2018, according to Mexico’s National Public Security System. The number of people killed in Mexico in 2019 has risen by 2% over the same time period in 2018.
The gunmen in the initial attack allegedly belong to the Cartel of the Northeast.