Four police officers were shot to death after being drawn into an ambush in western Mexico, and as many as eight suspected attackers were killed in a gun battle with other police who rushed to the site, authorities said Thursday.
Luis Joaquín Méndez, chief prosecutor of the western state of Jalisco, said four municipal policemen in the city of El Salto responded to a call late Wednesday about armed men at a house.
Once they arrived, a woman answered the door and told them nothing was wrong. But gunmen inside then opened fire on the officers, some of whom were dragged into the home and killed, the prosecutor said.
Officials said police reinforcements showed up and engaged in a shootout with the suspects, killing eight and wounding three.
Later, the prosecutor’s office said nine bodies were found at the house – the four police officers and five suspected gunmen. Three more bodies – two men and a woman – were found at a property nearby, they said.
Prosecutors said the dead were probably members of a gang that apparently held kidnap victims at one of the properties. Investigators also found the hacked up remains of another man in plastic bags.
Two people being held captive inside the building were rescued following a tip-off that gunmen had been seen taking gagged people into the house, officials said.
Several people were arrested, and weapons and ammunition were seized.
Ricardo Santillán, police chief of El Salto, called the shootings “a cowardly act.”
The Roman Catholic Mexican Council of Bishops issued an open letter Thursday calling on the government to change course on security, commenting three days afterby a drug gang leader inside their church in a remote town in northern Mexico.
“It is time to revise the security policies that are failing,” the bishops wrote, calling for a “national dialogue” to find solutions.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has declared his government is no longer focused on detaining drug cartel leaders, and in 2019 he ordered the release of a captured leader of the Sinaloa cartel to avoid bloodshed.
López Obrador has implemented a strategy he calls “hugs, not bullets” and has sometimes appeared to tolerate the gangs, even praising them at one point for not interfering in elections.
Asked at his daily morning news briefing if he intended to change strategies, López Obrador said, “No, rather the reverse, this is the right path.”
He faced questions about the fact that there have been more killings in his 3 1/2 years in office than in all six years under President Felipe Calderón in 2006-2012, whom López Obrador frequently accuses of being responsible for unnecessary bloodshed.
“It’s just that we received a homicide rate that was at its peak, way up, and Calderón wasn’t handed the country like that. He ratcheted it up,” López Obrador said.
Ten police officers have been murdered this year in Jalisco, one of Mexico’s most violent states due to the presence of criminal gangs, according to official figures.
The western region, one of the country’s most prosperous, is the cradle of the powerful Jalisco New Generation Cartel, which authorities blame for numerous deaths and disappearances. The Department of Justice considers the Jalisco cartel to be “one of the five most dangerous transnational criminal organizations in the world.”
Its leader, Nemesio “El Mencho” Oseguera, is one of the world’s most wanted drug lords, with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration offering $10 million for his arrest.
“He is the number one priority for DEA and frankly for federal law enforcement in the United States,” DEA agent Matthew Donahuein 2019.
Last month, Mexican authorities captured a suspected leader of the Jalisco cartel — Francisco Javier Rodriguez Hernandez, known as “El Señorón” or “XL.”