Fifteen police officers were killed in a gang ambush in western Mexico, an official said on Tuesday, marking the deadliest day in recent years for security forces battling the drug war.
Five more officers were wounded in Monday’s assault, which took place on a twisting rural highway near the village of Soyatan as a convoy carrying the elite state police unit headed to Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-biggest city.
Authorities suspect the powerful “Jalisco New Generation Drug Cartel” carried out the assault against the officers after waiting for them in a makeshift encampment for one or two days.
The assailants blocked the road with vehicles, pouring fuel on them and setting the cars on fire, Jalisco State Security Commissioner Francisco Alejandro Solorio Arechiga said, adding that a “large number” of them attacked the officers.
“They died in a cowardly attack, which means that we can’t let our guard down,” Solorio said after a meeting of federal police, military and state security officials in Guadalajara, adding that the wounded officers were in stable condition.
It was the heaviest single-day loss for the nation’s security forces since the start of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s two-year-old administration.
In 2010, 12 federal police officers were killed in the neighboring state of Michoacan. Another ambush in 2012 left 12 municipal and state police dead in the southern state of Guerrero.
Solorio said that in addition to the 15 state officers, the municipal police chief of the town of Zacoalco de Torres was killed in another attack on Monday.
The latest clash adds Jalisco as a focal point in the drug war. The violence in Michoacan, Guerrero and the state of Tamaulipas on the US border, have garnered more attention recently.
Authorities say the Jalisco attack appeared to be in revenge over the arrest of four gang suspects in an investigation into a failed assassination attempt against Solorio last month.
“These attacks are a reaction of organized crime after the attack against me,” Solorio said.
The assassination bid was itself a response to a March 23 operation in the town of Zacoalco de Torres in which three Jalisco cartel suspects were killed, authorities said.
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