Federal police hunted for top leaders of the La Familia drug cartel in a western Mexican state on Thursday, unleashing narco-blockades and shootouts that have left at least five people dead, including an eight-month-old baby.
Federal police believe that several La Familia members may have been killed, including one of its top leaders, said Alejandro Poire, government spokesman for security issues. He did not say who the leader may have been.
“The way the criminals have tried to protect themselves as they fled from our operations yesterday and today suggests that we have located and are closely pursuing high-level leaders of La Familia Michoacana,” the spokesman said. “Similarly, preliminary unconfirmed information indicates that in their retreat, the organization has suffered significant causalities, including possibly the death of one of their leaders.”
The shootout began on Wednesday night when federal police investigating a tip about the presence of armed men in Apatzingan in Michoacan state came under fire from La Familia gunmen, Poire said.
The gunmen fired on civilian cars and used the sometimes-burning vehicles as barricades.
One of those killed was an eight-month-old baby who was riding in a taxi with his mother, the state attorney general’s office said in a statement on Wednesday night. The other was the teenage daughter of a former Apatzingan mayor, state police investigator Luis Mendez told Milenio TV on Thursday.
The Michoacan Attorney General’s Office said that by Thursday evening, the total number of people killed was five, including two federal police officers. Three other officers were injured.
The Mexican Public Safety Department statement said a third group of gunmen ambushed another federal police unit trying to come to the aid of their colleagues. The gunmen blocked a highway leading into Apatzingan to prevent the police from advancing.
The blockades continued on Thursday morning in Morelia, the picturesque colonial capital of Michoacan state.
The gunmen arrived at all five roads leading into Morelia and fired into the air to force drivers and passengers from their vehicles, said Jonathan Arrendondo, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office of Michoacan state, where the city is located.
A reporter saw a 75-year-old man being treated for a bullet wound to the leg at one of the entry points. Witnesses said the man had been a passenger on a bus and was struck by the bullet as he tried to flee.
Later on Thursday, armed gunmen in two trucks ambushed a group of federal and state police officers patrolling the Morelia-Patzcuaro highway, injuring three.
Michoacan, home state of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, is also a stronghold of La Familia cartel, which is known for beheadings and brash attacks against government security forces.
It was the second time in less than a month that gunmen have blocked roads leading into Morelia.
The federal police have recently arrested several key La Familia members.
One of those suspects, Sergio Moreno Godinez, said under police interrogation last month that the cartel is in decline. He confirmed the authenticity of a letter, e-mailed to journalists and dropped on the streets of several towns, saying the cartel wants to disband and negotiate a truce with authorities. The government has ignored the offer.