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Mexican troops, police battle drug violence near border

Published May 18, 2007


HERMOSILLO, Mexico - Police and Mexican army troops arrested four suspected members of a criminal assault force that overran a town near the Arizona border and set off fighting that left at least 22 dead in violence linked to drug cartels.

Luis Pena Molina, town secretary of Banamichi, said Thursday that "helicopters are combing the whole area" looking for the remnants of the estimated 50 gunmen who assaulted the nearby town of Cananea, 30 miles south of the U.S. border. He said four gunmen had been detained.

The violence began Wednesday, when men armed with assault rifles and riding in 10 to 15 vehicles pulled four lightly armed city police officers out of their cars and executed them in a park.

The assailants fled to the nearby hills with authorities in pursuit. The gunmen ditched their vehicles, commandeered horses and forced ranch hands to serve as guides, according to an account from a man abducted by the armed gang.

An hours-long gunbattle erupted between the gunmen and police and soldiers. Fifteen assailants, five police officers and two local residents were killed.

The first outside authorities to arrive on Wednesday found an eerie no man's land: Local law enforcement had melted away.

The invasion of Cananea - a town that helped spark the 1910 Mexican Revolution when U.S. forces crossed the border to help put down a miners' strike - showed the brashness and power of Mexico's organized crime.

Weapons flow from U.S., official says

MEXICO CITY - Mexico's top police official said Thursday that drug gangs are relying on a flow of arms from the United States and using terrorist strategies learned from al-Qaida to pressure the government to halt antidrug efforts.

Mexican Federal Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna complained of "a large flow of weapons ... many of which came from the United States, " noting authorities have seized assault rifles, .50-caliber machine guns and hand grenades.

"Just in the U.S. border zone, just over the bridge, there are 6, 000 gun shops, " Garcia Luna said. "That represents an opportunity for drug traffickers."

[Last modified May 18, 2007, 01:53:13]

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