Shootout kills 21 as gun­men at­tack a town hall in Mex­ico

Four of­fi­cers, 17 sus­pected mem­bers of car­tel slain not far from the Texas bor­der

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION & WORLD - BY MARY BETH SHERI­DAN The Washington Post

MEX­ICO CITY — Gun­men at­tacked a town hall in north­ern Mex­ico, au­thor­i­ties said Sun­day, trig­ger­ing a se­ries of clashes with se­cu­rity forces that left 21 dead — most of them sus­pected mem­bers of an or­ga­nized crime group.

The at­tack started around noon on Satur­day, when men bran­dish­ing as­sault ri­fles swept into the town of Villa Union, around 40 miles south­west of Ea­gle Pass, Texas, in at least 14 trucks. Au­thor­i­ties said they were be­lieved to be mem­bers of the Car­tel of the North­east, an off­shoot of the once-pow­er­ful Ze­tas.

The gun­men un­leashed a fu­ri­ous bat­tle at the town hall, whose fa­cade was pep­pered with bul­let holes. Mex­i­can po­lice and sol­diers fought the at­tack­ers and then pur­sued them as they fled, ac­cord­ing to the Coahuila state of­fi­cials. The se­cu­rity forces, backed by army heli­copters, chased down the gun­men in an oper­a­tion that stretched into Sun­day morn­ing. The dead in­cluded four state po­lice of­fi­cers and 17 al­leged car­tel mem­bers.

The clash came just days af­ter Pres­i­dent Donald Trump said he planned to des­ig­nate Mex­i­can car­tels as for­eign ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions — prompt­ing fierce op­po­si­tion from Mex­i­can au­thor­i­ties. Mex­ico fears such a des­ig­na­tion could hurt in­vest­ment and tourism and open the pos­si­bil­ity of uni­lat­eral U.S. ac­tion in its south­ern neigh­bor.

For­eign Min­is­ter Marcelo Ebrard said he planned to meet this week with U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr to try to head off the ter­ror des­ig­na­tion and step up co­op­er­a­tion in fight­ing vi­o­lence.

Mex­ico’s homi­cide rate is ex­pected to hit record lev­els this year as armed groups around the coun­try bat­tle over drug routes, gas theft, ex­tor­tion, kid­nap­ping and other il­le­gal ac­tiv­i­ties.

Pres­i­dent An­drés Manuel López Obrador, who marked one year in of­fice on Sun­day, is un­der pres­sure to take stronger steps to limit the mount­ing vi­o­lence. While highly pop­u­lar, his ap­proval rat­ings have been dented by a se­ries of high­pro­file at­tacks — in­clud­ing a brief takeover of the city of Cu­li­a­can by Si­naloa Car­tel gun­men, and an am­bush that claimed the lives of nine women and chil­dren from the LeBaron clan, an ex­tended fam­ily of Mor­mons with dual U.S.-Mex­i­can cit­i­zen­ship.

López Obrador has adopted a paci­fi­ca­tion strat­egy that in­cludes ad­dress­ing the roots of vi­o­lence with em­ploy­ment and school schol­ar­ships, while try­ing to use fi­nan­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tions to un­der­mine crim­i­nal groups.

The Car­tel of the North­east is an off­shoot of the hy­per-vi­o­lent Ze­tas, which dis­in­te­grated af­ter its lead­ers were tar­geted by past Mex­i­can gov­ern­ments. The car­tel’s strong­hold is Nuevo Laredo in the state of Ta­mauli­pas, which is near Coahuila.

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