12 federal agents tortured, killed in Mexico
MORELIA, Mexico - Twelve people tortured and killed in a cartel-plagued Mexican state were federal agents investigating organized crime, the government said Tuesday, marking one of the boldest attacks on federal forces since President Felipe Calderon launched his war on drugs.
Mexico's national security spokesman, Monte Alejandro Rubido, said the 11 men and one woman were off duty when they were ambushed and abducted by members of the La Familia drug cartel in Calderon's home state of Michoacan, which has been a center of his crackdown on organized crime.
Their bodies were found piled up along a mountain highway late Monday near the town of La Huacana. Michoacan state prosecutor J. Jesus Montejano initially said Tuesday that they were soldiers, but the army denied that.
Cartel chief arrested earlier
Initial reports indicated the victims were likely killed over the weekend, when federal agents arrested Arnoldo Rueda Medina, who is suspected of being chief of operations of the Michoacan-based La Familia cartel.
Police say his arrest Saturday set off a string of brazen attacks against federal forces that left six federal police officers and two soldiers dead. Gunmen threw grenades and fired on federal police stations and hotels where the agents were staying in three states.
"This marks an important change in the drug war in that they are attacking federal forces directly," said Jorge Chabat, a Mexican drug expert. "It also suggests the capture of this person has affected the operations of the cartel. It was a major blow and this is a reaction out of weakness not strength."
Federal forces arrested politicians in several Michoacan cities, including La Huacana, during an unprecedented sweep in May against local officials believed to be cooperating with drug traffickers. Seven mayors, one former mayor and the state prosecutor remain jailed on charges of protecting the La Familia cartel.
Since Calderon took office in December 2006, he has sent more than 45,000 troops to drug hot spots. More than 11,000 people have been killed in drug violence.
Michoacan, located on Mexico's western coast, has been wracked by a wave of killings and arrests in recent weeks. Federal forces there are fighting La Familia, which is locked in a battle with the Zetas drug hit men, who form a branch of the Gulf cartel. On Tuesday, three bodies were found in the town of Nuevo Urecho.
In the northern state of Chihuahua, meanwhile, gunmen killed the mayor of the town of Namiquipa, officials said.
Hector Mixueiro was driving his pickup truck near Namiquipa when gunmen opened fire Tuesday. A message left on a Ciudad Juarez bridge hours earlier threatened Mixueiro saying he had helped soldiers arrest 25 gunmen last month in the town of Nicolas Bravo, said state prosecutors spokesman Fidel Banuelos.
In neighboring Coahuila state, four police officers in the border city of Piedras Negras were kidnapped hours after the police chief was pulled from his patrol car, Piedras Negras' Public Safety Director Jose Castillo said Tuesday.
Gunmen kidnapped Piedras Negras Police Chief Rogelio Ramos on Monday morning.
Effects of militarizing police force
Officials said the kidnappings could be related to efforts to curb corruption by militarizing the police force in Piedras Negras, across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas. The city is one of many in Mexico that have turned to the armed forces for help controlling cross-border drug trafficking.
Castillo's predecessor, army Col. Arturo Navarro, was shot and killed in April — less than three weeks after he took over the local force with the aim of purging alleged corruption.
Also Tuesday, soldiers detained 19 police officers from the wealthy Monterrey suburb of San Pedro who are suspected of links with organized crime, authorities said.
The San Pedro officers were detained Monday evening and Tuesday morning, said a spokesman for the state attorney general's office on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to give his name.
The detentions follow the June 26 capture of a Beltran Leyva cartel operative in San Pedro who police said was carrying a list with the names of San Pedro police officers.