7 killed at park in besieged Mexican border city

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – Gunmen spraying automatic weapons fire killed seven people at a park that had been built as an anti-violence measure in the besieged Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez, authorities said Monday. The assailants arrived during a soccer game the park in the Francisco I. Madero neighborhood and opened fire Sunday afternoon, said Carlos Gonzalez, a spokesman for the Chihuahua state prosecutors’ office. Two of the people killed had been playing soccer. The body of one young man in his blue-and-red soccer uniform lay beneath a huge sign reading “Live Better” — the federal government’s motto — and “Todo Somos Juarez,” or “We’re All Juarez” — the name of a program to reduce violence and improve life for Ciudad Juarez. Four people, including a 12-year-old girl, were hospitalized in critical condition, and one later died of his wounds.

Investigators found 180 bullet casings from the sort of assault weapons typically used by drug gangs, Gonzalez said, though they had not yet identified the perpetrators or a motive. The park was inaugurated four months ago as part of the “Todos Somos Juarez” program. Three other people — two men and a 15-year-old boy — were killed on a street in the same neighborhood Monday, although Gonzalez said there was no evidence that the attacks were related. Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, is Mexico’s most violent city, with more than 3,000 killed last year as the Sinaloa and Juarez drug cartels for control of lucrative trafficking routes into the United States. Seven drug gang suspects, meanwhile, were killed in a series of gunbattles outside the northern city of Monterrey, the Defense Department said in a statement. Among those killed was a top operator of the Zetas drug gang known as “Comandante Lino,” the statement said. It did not provide the suspect’s full name, and Defense Department officials did not immediately respond to requests for details.

The statement said “Comandante Lino” led the Zetas’ turf war against the Gulf cartel in the state of Nuevo Leon. The Zetas were long time hit men for the Gulf cartel, but the two groups split early last year, provoking a bloody territorial battle in northeastern Mexico. Nuevo Leon state public safety spokesman Jorge Domene said earlier that eight suspects were killed according to preliminary information, but the Defense Department said the number was seven, and that one person was wounded. The statement said the wounded person was believed to have been a hostage held by the gang. Soldiers fought six different battles in towns outside Monterrey, the Defense Department said. They seized 37 assault rifles, two handguns and six grenades. Domene said gang members used stolen cars to blockade 11 junctions of a road, a common tactic used by Mexican cartels to prevent security forces from sending reinforcements. Another, seven-hour shootout between soldiers and gunmen broke out in Los Mochis, a city in the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, said Martin Gastelum, a spokesman for the state prosecutors’ office. One gunman was killed and two soldiers were wounded.

Gov. Mario Lopez ordered schools in the city closed and warned that gangs could take retaliatory action, according to a government statement. It did not specify how long schools would be closed. More than 34,600 people have been killed nationwide since President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown against drug traffickers in December 2006. Meanwhile, a series of banners appeared Monday in the western states of Michoacan and Guerrero claiming La Familia drug cartel has decided to disband. “La Familia Michoacana is completely dissolved since it has been unfairly blamed,” the banners read. “La Familia Michoacana has exterminated rapists and kidnappers and it’s time for Mr. Felipe Calderon to investigate his Cabinet, most essentially (Public Safety Secretary) Genaro Garcia Luna.” The gang has sometimes used banners draped from pedestrian bridges to deny responsibility for crimes or to send messages to authorities, but state officials said they could not immediately verify the authenticity of the new banners.

The federal government said in December that the once-fearsome cartel had been “completely dismembered,” breaking down into small groups that commit robberies to pay their members. The cartel has dominated crime in the western state of Michoacan for several years, making money by trafficking methamphetamine and extorting protection money from businesses. It has also become known for its bloody ambushes of federal police. La Familia has been thrown into disarray, however by the recent arrest and deaths of top members, including cartel leader Nazario Moreno, nicknamed “The Craziest One,” who was killed in a shootout with police on Dec. 9. – Yahoo News