Drug Cartel Kills 5 in Coordinated Attacks on Mexican Forces
Monday, July 13, 2009
MEXICO CITY, July 12 -- Authorities were interrogating a captured ringleader of the drug cartel La Familia on Sunday, after the violent crime syndicate launched a series of coordinated commando attacks against federal police and Mexican soldiers during the weekend that left five dead and a dozen wounded.
The ambushes by La Familia in eight cities spread across the western state of Michoacan on Saturday were carried out with disciplined force by small but bold units of cartel gunmen, backed with military-grade assault rifles and grenades.
The offensive began in the capital, Morelia, and lasted 10 hours. The attacks, in which convoys of gunmen sprung surprise attacks on government positions, occurred near sites popular with tourists, including the arts-and-crafts town of Patzcuaro and nearby Zitacuaro, famous for its migrating monarch butterflies. Much of the fighting took place in and around cities where the federal government arrested 10 mayors last month on suspicion of colluding with La Familia. Mexican media reported two more attacks Sunday.
The assaults mark an escalation in Mexico's drug war, which has killed more than 11,000 since President Felipe Calderón launched it in December 2006.
Federal police say the attacks by La Familia, Mexico's newest and most violent mini-cartel, were in retaliation for the capture of one of the group's leaders.
A senior U.S. drug enforcement official recently called La Familia "the new face of drug trafficking in Mexico." The official added that La Familia has a presence in at least 30 U.S. cities.
Ramón Pequeño García, chief of anti-drug operations at Mexico's Public Security Ministry, said in an interview last month that La Familia is fighting for control of cocaine smuggling routes heading north from the port of Lazaro Cardenas toward the United States. The group also runs methamphetamine factories and marijuana plantations, and carries out kidnappings and extortion activities.
The attacks began at dawn Saturday in Morelia shortly after the arrest of Arnold Rueda Medina, reported to be the right-hand man of La Familia founder Nazario Moreno González, known as "El Mas Loco," or the Craziest One. He recruits troops to his cartel from the ranks of rural militias and drug treatment centers. El Mas Loco is known as the author of a slim book of folk wisdom and is infamous for masterminding torture-slayings that include branding the bodies of victims before their decapitation.
After La Familia gunmen were repelled in their attempt to free Rueda, they apparently went on their revenge spree. At one point, they attacked a hotel in Apatzingan where federal police were staying.
On Sunday afternoon, federal police announced that they had arrested two young gunmen in connection with the attacks.