Cartel wars rock Tijuana

Tijuana Cartel gunmen and fought a three-hour battle with Mexican federal police and army troops in the border city Jan. 17, using machine guns and grenades and firing on a helicopter. One gunman was killed and four police officers were wounded in the fight; one officer died in the hospital the next day. Authorities later found six more bodies in the house where the gunmen made their stand, believed to be local kidnapping victims.

The fire-fight began when federal police tried to raid a suspected cartel safe house in La Mesa neighborhood and drew fire from black-clad men inside. Soldiers were called in, and the cartel gunmen attempted to repel them with rocket-propelled grenades. Terrified residents hid in their houses and soldiers evacuated an elementary school. Pedestrians caught in the crossfire hugged the ground for hours. “We’ve entered a new era,” said Victor Clark Alfaro, director of the Binational Center for Human Rights, noting the escalation in weaponry.

The shoot-out took place in the same neighborhood where gunmen killed two Baja California state police officials just after midnight Jan. 15. Hours later, gunmen broke into the home of a police commander, Margarito Saldana, killing him along with his wife and 12-year-old daughter. Funeral services for the commander were being held on the morning of the 17th as the new battle broke out. Authorities said that in the hours before the shoot-out, cartel operatives had issuing death threats to Tijuana’s police chief, Julián Leyzaola Pérez, over police radio frequencies. Later that day, bomb threats forced the evacuation of City Hall and police headquarters, although no explosives were found.

The Mexican government dispatched 1,000 more federal police agents to Baja California last week, half of them to Tijuana. Hundreds of soldiers have also been mobilized to the state. (El Universal, Jan. 19; El Financiero, NYT, LAT, Jan. 18)

See our last posts on Mexico and the narco crisis.