Running gun battle in Mexico leaves 9 gunmen, 1 police dead

MEXICO CITY (AP) — A series of running gunbattles in Mexico’s most violent state left nine suspected gunmen and one state police officer dead Monday, authorities said.

The shootouts in north-central Guanajuato state started before dawn near the hamlet of Santa Rosa de Lima, the stronghold of a gang of the same name.

State police, soldiers and National Guard agents rushed to respond to reports of armed men in the area, and all three forces came under fire from heavily armed assailants in vans, SUVs and pickup trucks, officials said.

In the first clash, one state police officer was hit and later died at a hospital. Five assailants were also reported killed.

As reinforcements arrived, they also came under attack and returned fire.

Officials said the combined law enforcement forces found a total of four other bodies, many of them bullet-ridden, in a variety of vehicles in the area around Santa Rosa de Lima, which is an agricultural area with many dirt roads. They reported seizing 10 assault rifles, 14 grenades and 30 gasoline bombs from various vehicles.

A Guanajuato-based security analyst, David Saucedo, said the shootouts initially erupted when gunmen from the Jalisco New Generation drug cartel, known by its initials CJNG, attacked rivals from Santa Rosa de Lima. Both groups of gunmen then apparently fired on responding law enforcement officers.

“For some reason, the CJNG decided to start an offensive in this zone,” Saucedo said.

Authorities said hand-lettered drug gang signs were found in some of the vehicles, though they did not release the messages. But a photo from the scene showed that one of the signs read “People of Santa Rosa de Lima, the CJNG has arrived in your town, we arrived to clean up this bunch of extortionists and killers of innocent people.”

Saucedo said the home-grown Santa Rosa Gang has taken to extorting protection payments from local people, but the Jalisco cartel has also staged its offensive with cruelty, forcing some in areas controlled by the rival gang to flee their homes and properties.

Thousands have been killed in Guanajuato since Santa Rosa de Lima began a turf war to fight off a takeover by the Jalisco cartel in 2017.

Now the state is at the center of a proxy war between drug cartels, after the Sinaloa cartel entered the conflict backing Santa Rosa de Lima with guns, money and hired killers, said Sophia Huett, the Guanajuato security commissioner.

That same kind of proxy war made the border city of Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, a killing ground in the years around 2010.

The Santa Rosa gang grew up in the farming hamlet of the same name by stealing fuel from government pipelines and refineries and robbing freight from trains. After authorities stepped up security around trains and pipelines over the last two years, the gang turned to extortion and kidnapping.

Jalisco New Generation has been Mexico’s most violent cartel in recent years, aggressively expanding its reach across the country through bold attacks on rival gangs and government forces.

The conflict has made Guanajuato — home to charming San Miguel Allende, a popular retirement spot for Americans — Mexico’s deadliest state.

In September, gunmen killed 11 people in a bar in Jaral del Progreso near the border with Michoacan state. More than two dozen people were killed in an unregistered drug rehabilitation center in Irapuato in July.

Late last week, nine people were killed and one wounded when gunmen opened fire at a wake in the city of Celaya, near Santa Rosa de Lima. Officials said gunmen arrived late Thursday and opened fire on a group of people. The victims were standing outside a home in a low-income neighborhood where a wake was being held for a young man who himself had been gunned down nearby a couple of days before.