A violent clash that left at least 21 people dead in a remote area southwest of Nogales, Sonora, on Thursday resulted when gangsters working for the powerful Sinaloa Cartel led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman confronted rivals loyal to the Beltran Leyva drug-trafficking group, according to media reports based on official sources.
The assault began after a convoy of up to 50 vehicles drove north toward a mountainous area near the village of Tubutama, about 30 miles southwest of Nogales, Sonora, according to news outlets that included the Mexico City-based newspaper Milenio.
Milenio reported that the convoy carried heavily armed members of the Beltran Leyva gang and allies from the Zetas, a violent crime organization based in Mexico’s Gulf region. The gunmen intended to dislodge Guzman-affiliated traffickers from the Tubutama area, the paper said.
However, the website BorderReporter.com, run by Nogales International contributor Michel Marizco, reported that the attackers were Guzman associates trying to drive Beltran Leyva loyalists from a mountain stronghold.
The Guzman group suffered the worst of the bloodshed after being ambushed by the Beltran Leyva gang, according to BorderReporter.com.
Jose Larrinaga Talamantes, spokesman for the Sonora Attorney General’s Office (PGJE), said 21 people died and another nine were arrested following the early morning showdown. Some media reports put the death toll as high as 29.
Larrinaga said that six of the nine detainees had been injured and were receiving medical attention. The other three were being interrogated.
Sonora Interior Secretary Hector Larios Cordova told media outlets including W Radio that the dead were from Sonora, Sinaloa and the gulf state of Tamaulipas.
Sinaloa native Arturo Beltran Leyva, architect of a massive drug trafficking organization that he ran with his brothers, was a key ally of Guzman, Mexico’s most wanted man, until a violent split in early 2008.
Beltran Leyva was killed by the Mexican military in December in the southern city of Cuernavaca, and Guzman’s associates in Sonora set to rid the state of Beltran Leyva’s influence, touching off a wave of bloodshed in Nogales, Sonora, and surrounding areas.
The Mexico City newspaper El Universal reported Friday that Saltiel Beltran, son of Arturo Beltran Leyva, had been kidnapped recently in the city of Zapopan, Jalisco by members of Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel.
Authorities had been on alert for clashes between the cartels as a result of the kidnapping, the paper reported.
Authorities say they confiscated eight vehicles at the scene of Thursday’s shootout near Tubutama, as well as firearms and ammunition.
Some of the seized vehicles were marked with a large “X,” a strategy reportedly used by Guzman allies to prevent friendly-fire casualties during shootouts.
A week prior to the incident, two town officials from Tubutama were found murdered in a pickup truck.
Also on Thursday, two charred human heads were found hanging on a fence outside the Del Rosario cemetery in Nogales, Sonora. Local police identified the victims as men ages 22 and 23.
A photo posted on the newspaper El Diario’s website showed the heads hanging next to a handwritten cardboard sign, bearing what appeared to be a warning to members of a rival crime gang.
It was unclear if the decapitations were related to the shootout in Tubutama.
Mexican drug traffickers commonly cut off victims’ heads and leave them next to messages meant to terrorize their rivals.
Despite the gruesome discovery, organized crime-related killings are down in the border city, Mayor Jose Angel Hernandez Barajas told the Hermosillo-based newspaper El Imparcial.
The city recorded six homicides in June, the mayor said, well below the 44 recorded in January.
He credited stepped-up police operations and an influx of 200 new federal police reinforcements.
The operations that have been conducted in Nogales have borne very good fruit, Hernandez said.
July 3, 2010
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