Sunday, June 22, 2008

5 Assassinated in Novolato

Mexico City, Jun 22 (EFE).- Police found the bodies of five people who were killed with AK-47 assault rifles in Novolato, a city in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa, in an apparent settling of scores between organized-crime groups, prosecutors told Efe.

The bodies were found early Saturday lined up on the edge of an irrigation canal at the main entrance to the city's San Pedro neighborhood.

"The five bodies had the hands tied behind their backs and were betweeen 25 and 30 years" old, a spokesman for the Sinaloa Attorney General's Office said.

Police found 104 bullet casings from AK-47 assault rifles at the crime scene, leading investigators to conclude the victims were gunned down by organized-crime groups.

The bodies did not have any identification on them, but three of the victims were apparently reported missing on Friday, officials said.

"Two of every three homicides in this state are linked to organized crime due to the modus operandi," the Sinaloa Attorney General's Office spokesman said.

So far this year, there have been 395 murders linked to organized crime in Sinaloa, or about 2.2 per day.

Last week, gunmen believed to be working for organized-crime groups murdered a police officer in Sinaloa.

Officer Ricardo Beltran Villa was gunned down in Culiacan, where the government deployed 2,700 soldiers and federal agents last month in an effort to stem the wave of drug-related violence.

Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa, is one of the cities most affected by drug trafficking in Mexico.

Mexico has been plagued in recent years by drug-related violence, with powerful cartels battling each other and the security forces, as rival gangs vie for control of lucrative smuggling and distribution routes.

Armed groups linked to Mexico's drug cartels murdered more than 2,700 people in 2007, and the death toll so far this year stands at some 1,700.

Experts say that Mexico's most powerful drug trafficking organizations are the Tijuana cartel, which is run by the Arellano Felix brothers, the Gulf cartel and the Sinaloa cartel. Two other large drug trafficking organizations, the Juarez and Milenio cartels, also operate in the country.

The Sinaloa organization is the oldest cartel in Mexico and is led by Joaquin "El Chapo" (Shorty) Guzman, who was arrested in Guatemala in 1993 and pulled off a Hollywood-style jailbreak when he escaped from the Puente Grande maximum-security prison in the western state of Jalisco on Jan. 19, 2001, and has been a major headache for authorities and rival drug lords ever since.

Guzman, considered extremely violent, is one of the most-wanted criminals in Mexico and the United States, where the Drug Enforcement Administration has offered a reward of $5 million for him.

On May 10, officials confirmed the death of Edgar Guzman, one of the drug lord's six sons, in a shootout in Culiacan in which gunmen used grenade launchers and bazookas.

The killing of the Sinaloa cartel chief's son and the arrest soon after of his cousin, Alfonso Gutierrez Loera, 25, prompted analysts to predict a new wave of violence in Mexico.

Analysts, moreover, said Guzman has been waging a battle for control of the cartel with the Beltran Leyva brothers.

Tackling the problem of drug-related violence, according to experts, is a major challenge both because of Mexico's notoriously corrupt security forces and because honest police officers are fearful of taking on the heavily armed drug mobs.

Some 40 army and navy personnel, 30 federal police officers and about 200 state law-enforcement agents were killed last year, with most of the killings occurring in northern and southern Mexico, according to official figures.

Since taking office in December 2006, President Felipe Calderon has deployed more than 30,000 soldiers and federal police to nearly a dozen of Mexico's 31 states in a bid to stem the wave of violence unleashed by drug traffickers. The goal of the operation was to regain control of territory controlled by Mexico's drug cartels

Macro*World Investor

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