Pubdate: Fri, 11 Jul 2008
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Los Angeles Times
Author: Marla Dickerson, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Mexico Under Siege


In Daylight Near the Center of Sinaloa's Capital, Gunmen Kill Nine at
a Shop and Three Pursuing Officers.

Mexico City -- Gunmen shot 12 people to death in broad daylight near
the center of Culiacan on Thursday, marking one of the more bloody and
brazen recent attacks in the capital of a state beset by drug
trafficking and violence.

The Sinaloa state prosecutor's office said armed men opened fire in an
auto repair shop about 11:20 a.m., killing six people inside and three
more just outside the doors. Fleeing in sport utility vehicles, the
gunmen then traded fire with police officers who gave chase in a busy
commercial area filled with stores and fast-food restaurants.

The dead included three police officers. One was killed during the
chase, and the other two died in a hospital.

The gunmen escaped. There were no immediate arrests.

Home to the so-called Sinaloa cartel headed by Joaquin "Shorty"
Guzman, the western state has a long history of drug violence. It has
tallied more than 250 narcotics-related killings this year.

But even law enforcement officials were stunned by Thursday's
audacious slayings.

"It wasn't in the wee hours. It wasn't on the outskirts of the city.
It was in the full light of day in the center of Culiacan in a busy
area," said Carlos Parras, spokesman for the prosecutor's office. "So
it appears to us to be a very serious and historic event in that sense."

Parras said Sinaloa Gov. Jesus Aguilar Padilla canceled a trip to
Europe to remain in Culiacan in the wake of the violence.

Police have not identified any of the nine bodies found at the auto
repair shop. Nor would they give a motive for the slayings.

Mexico has been rocked this year by a wave of narcotics-related
violence stemming in part from a turf war that has erupted between the
Sinaloa cartel and rivals vying to control lucrative smuggling routes
to the United States.

The bloodshed also has been ratcheted up by a massive offensive
launched by President Felipe Calderon to crack down on the drug trade.

About 40,000 soldiers and 5,000 federal police officers have been
deployed in the government effort, leading to some significant arrests
and major seizures of narcotics and weapons.

Calderon asserts that the cartels have been hurt badly by the
operation and that related violence -- including more than 2,000
killings this year nationwide -- is a sign that the drug gangs are
desperate and disorganized.

Critics, however, say the massive deployment of troops has done little
but push the violence from one area to another and note that several
high-level law enforcement officials have been slain.

Traffickers in Sinaloa recently hung posters mocking the 3,600 troops
there as "little lead soldiers."