At least 35 people have been killed in 24 hours of drug-related violence in Mexico, one of the bloodiest days so far this year.
On Tuesday, 21 people were killed in a shootout between the Mexican army and gunmen in the northern state of Chihuahua, a military spokesman said.
The standoff began when suspected drug gang members kidnapped nine people in Villa Ahumada, 130km south of the violence-stricken border city of Ciudad Juarez.
In gun battles that followed the abductions, six of the hostages were executed by their kidnappers, and the military killed 14 of the gang members, the spokesman said.
One soldier was also shot dead in the clashes, the military said.
Elsewhere in Chihuahua, 10 people were killed, including one man who was assassinated in Ciudad Juarez when he was being transported to a hospital by the Red Cross.
Ciudad Juarez has become Mexico’s murder capital as the rival Juarez and Sinaloa cartels fight a turf war for control of the lucrative cocaine trade to the US.
At least 220 people have died in the city — which lies across the Rio Grande from the US city of El Paso — since the beginning of this year.
Tuesday’s violence also extended to the Baja California, where a pilot was killed in a volley of machine gun fire as he left his home.
“The manner of the killing indicates it was an execution,” state Secretary of Security Levin Rodriguez said.
“We presume that it is linked to drug trafficking because he piloted planes of dubious origin,” he said.
Elsewhere in northern Mexico, a group of armed men stormed the Torreon prison late on Monday, where they killed three prisoners and freed nine others.
Official figures show that 5,300 people died throughout Mexico last year despite a government crackdown, including the deployment of about 36,000 troops.
Some 1,000 kidnappings were officially registered in Mexico last year, but independent experts put the number at three times higher, saying many families never contact police and instead deal directly with kidnappers.