A soldier was among 15 people killed in a gunfight between the army and suspected gangsters just outside the city of Iguala, Guerrero, on Tuesday, the second mass killing in Mexico in as many days.
State security spokesman Roberto Álvarez Heredia said in a statement that the confrontation occurred in Tepochica, a community about five kilometers from Iguala.
A call to the 911 emergency number at about 5:30pm alerted authorities to the presence of armed men in the community, triggering a deployment by soldiers. They were attacked upon their arrival.
The military personnel returned fire and killed 14 armed men, but one soldier was killed during the clash and another was wounded.
After the shootout, the army seized several military-grade weapons and three stolen pickup trucks in which the armed men were traveling.
Photos showed some of the slain men slumped in the back of a pickup truck and two others in the back seat of a vehicle, one with a long gun lying across his body.
Security forces carried out a land and air-based operation in and around Iguala following the confrontation. Guerrero Attorney General Jorge Zuriel de los Santos Barilla traveled to Tepochica to oversee the police investigation and the removal of bodies.
The newspaper El Universal reported that the area is believed to be protected by members the Guerreros Unidos, a crime gang which allegedly killed the 43 students who disappeared in Iguala in September 2014.
On Tuesday morning, residents of Iguala awoke to images of suspected Guerreros Unido leader Pedro Flores Millán plastered across the city, El Universal said.
According to government sources, the gang is currently engaged in a turf war in the north of Guerrero with the La Familia Michoacana cartel.
Guerrero, a major producer of opium poppies and a trafficking corridor for both heroin and marijuana, is one of the most violent states in Mexico. Several other criminal groups, including Los Rojos, Los Ardillos and Los Granados, also operate there.
Yesterday’s confrontation came a day after 13 state police officers were killed in an ambush in Michoacán allegedly committed by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
President López Obrador told reporters on Tuesday that the incident was “very regrettable” but reiterated his government’s commitment to addressing the root causes of violence.
“I’m optimistic we’ll secure peace . . . We’re completely dedicated to this issue,” he said before blaming past governments for allowing violence to grow.
At his regular news conference on Wednesday morning, the president said the clash in Guerrero was also “very regrettable,” adding that “the relevant authority will have to carry out an investigation” and “we don’t want violence.”
The confrontation is the first major gun battle between the army and gangsters since López Obrador took office last December.
The president says that his government is committed to achieving peace without resorting to authoritarianism or the use of force, telling reporters on Monday “you can’t fight fire with fire . . . you have to fight evil by doing good.”