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7 Mexican Police Ambushed, Murdered In Ciudad Juarez

GUSTAVO RUIZ   04/24/10 08:37 PM ET   AP

Mexico Drug War

MORELIA, Mexico — Gunmen armed with assault rifles and grenades attacked a convoy carrying the top security official of the western state of Michoacan on Saturday, killing four and wounding 10 in Mexico's second brazen ambush in as many days.

Public Safety Secretary Minerva Bautista was among the wounded but was recovering from non-life-threatening injuries, according to the state attorney general's office. She was traveling in a bullet-resistant sport utility vehicle.

State Attorney General Jesus Montejano told the local Milenio television station that the attackers used assault rifles, grenades, a grenade launcher and a powerful .50-caliber sniper rifle whose rounds are capable of penetrating bullet-resistant materials.

"In the ambush, they used concentrated fire from these types of weapons, forcing her and her escort to crash into a trailer truck that they had pulled across the road," Montejano said.

The dead included two of Bautista's bodyguards and two bystanders. Of the other nine people wounded, most were bystanders, including two girls ages 2 and 12.

Montejano said most of those wounded were people returning from a regional fair, whose opening Bautista had also attended. She was returning from the fair when her three-vehicle convoy was attacked just after midnight.

There was no immediate information on the identity of the attackers, who numbered about 20, or on a possible motive. However, drug violence is common in Michoacan, the home base of the drug cartel known as La Familia.

Mexican drug cartels have been known to target security officials. The acting federal police chief was shot dead in May 2008 in an attack attributed to drug traffickers lashing back at a nationwide crackdown on organized crime.

In a statement Saturday, the Interior Department called the attack "a cowardly act that shows the desperation of organized crime organizations whose room to maneuver in illicit activities has been increasingly curtailed by authorities."

Several hours later after the ambush, assailants tossed a hand grenade at a police station in the Michoacan state capital, Morelia, about 30 yards (meters) from the state public safety department's headquarters. The explosion damaged three vehicles, but nobody was hurt.

Farther south, in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero, the dismembered bodies of three men were found in plastic bags inside a home outside the resort of Acapulco on Saturday.

Guerrero state police said a message was found at the scene. Mexican police generally do not release the contents of such messages, but local media said the hand-lettered sign blamed the three dead men for an April 14 shooting that killed six people on Acapulco's main boulevard.

That daylight shooting in Acapulco's balmy tourist zone killed a mother and her 8-year-old child, a taxi driver, a federal police officer and two other men.

One of the suspects detained in that shooting is described as an associate of Texas-born Edgar Valdez Villarreal, nicknamed "La Barbie," who Mexican federal authorities believe is battling Hector Beltran Leyva for control of the Beltran Leyva cartel. There was no indication which gang the three dismembered men belonged to.

On Friday, gunmen ambushed two police vehicles at a busy intersection in the northern border city of Ciudad Juarez, killing seven officers and a 17-year-old boy caught in the crossfire. Two more officers were seriously wounded.

Authorities said the officers had stopped to talk to a street vendor who flagged them down for help. Gunmen suddenly opened fire from behind, then fled in three vehicles.

Hours after the attack, a painted message directed to top federal police commanders and claiming responsibility for the attack appeared on a wall in downtown Ciudad Juarez. It was apparently signed by La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Juarez drug cartel. The Juarez cartel has been locked in a bloody turf battle with the Sinaloa cartel, led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

"This will happen to you ... for being with El Chapo Guzman and to all the dirtbags who support him. Sincerely, La Linea," the message read. The authenticity of the message could not be independently verified.

Also Saturday, prosecutors in Chihuahua state – where Ciudad Juarez is located – announced the arrest of a man suspected of participating in last year's killing of an anti-crime activist and a neighbor, both of whom lived in rural Chihuahua but held dual U.S. citizenship.

Ubaldo Rohan was charged with acting as a lookout in the kidnapping of activist Benjamin LeBaron's brother, Eric. After LeBaron protested the kidnapped, he and a neighbor were killed.

Rohan, like other suspects in the case, is allegedly linked to the Juarez drug cartel. He faces homicide, kidnapping and weapons charges.

More than 22,700 people have been killed in Mexico's drug war since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against the cartels.

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Filed by Nick Graham  |