Clashes between police and suspected members of the Northeast Cartel left 22 people dead in Coahuila after gangsters attacked a small town in the northern border state.
The Coahuila government said that eight gunmen and four state police officers were killed in clashes on Saturday in Villa Unión, a town about 65 kilometers south of the border city of Piedras Negras.
Police killed seven more suspected cartel members early Sunday as they traveled towards Nuevo León after fleeing Villa Unión, the government said.
The other two people killed were unarmed civilians who were kidnapped by criminals. The newspaper Milenio reported that that two municipal Civil Protection workers and a 15-year-old boy were abducted in Villa Unión on Saturday.
The boy is believed to be one of four minors who were kidnapped but subsequently rescued by authorities.
Governor Miguel Ángel Riquelme Solís said Monday that the death toll had risen to 22 after the discovery of the body of one of the attackers. He also said two people have been arrested.
The deaths of the cartel sicarios and police on Saturday occurred during a confrontation that lasted more than two hours.
Armed men traveling in pickup trucks emblazoned with the initials CDN (Cartel del Noreste) entered Villa Unión at about midday Saturday and attacked municipal police and the municipal offices, triggering a state police operation that turned into a lengthy gunfight that claimed 12 lives.
Rapid gunfire can be heard on videos posted to social media by local residents, while photographs taken after the gun battle showed burned out vehicles and the bullet-ridden façade of the municipal building. A church and some 30 homes were also damaged during the clash.
A resident identified only as Martín told Milenio that he and other locals hid in a shop while the gunfight occurred.
“. . . We were told that they [the suspected cartel members] . . . came to clean out all the filth,” he said, apparently referring to municipal police.
However, the motivation for the cartel’s attack on the small town was unclear, the Associated Press reported. Villa Unión Mayor Narcedalia Padrón Arizpe said in a television interview that the town is usually very calm.
Municipal public security director Jonathan Vallejo told reporters that seven of 10 municipal police officers deserted the town after the attack.
“For now, we’re focused on returning peace to the residents of the municipality, later we’ll see what we’ll do,” he said.
Sunday’s clash occurred on a road known as “La Brecha del Gas” that connects Villa Unión with the Nuevo León municipality of Anáhuac, Coahuila authorities said.
The government said that suspected cartel members were located thanks to an air and land search. Police seized a total of 17 vehicles, 18 weapons and a large quantity of ammunition from the criminal group on the weekend.
Governor Riquelme said that several gunmen stole vehicles to flee Villa Unión and kidnapped locals to guide them out of the town on dirt tracks. The Saltillo newspaper Zócalo reported that one of the stolen vehicles was a hearse on its way to a funeral.
The vehicles of two men from the United States in Coahuila on a hunting trip were also hijacked by suspected cartel members. The men were reported as missing but were later found “safe and sound,” police said.
The violence in Coahuila came just days after United States President Donald Trump said that Mexican drug cartels would be designated as terrorist organizations.
The United States attorney general is scheduled to meet with authorities in Mexico this week to discuss bilateral security cooperation but President López Obrador has repeatedly stressed that he will not accept any U.S. intervention to combat organized crime.
There has been a spate of cartel attacks recently including an ambush in Sonora that left three women and six children dead and an unprecedented show of strength by the Sinaloa cartel in state capital Culiacán that was triggered by an operation to capture a son of jailed drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.