International arrests follow Independence Day terror in Mexico

Unknown assailants lobbed grenades through the crowded town square in Morelia, Michoacán, during Independence Day celebrations Sept. 15, killing seven people and injuring more than 100. The first explosion hit just after 11 PM as bells began to ring across Mexico and Michoacán’s Gov. Leonel Godoy was delivering the traditional “grito” of independence before thousands of revelers. President Felipe CalderĂłn, whose hometown is Morelia and has mobilized thousands of soldiers to Michoacán to fight drug gangs, delivered a nationwide address the next day calling on Mexicans to unite against the cartels. “On this national holiday, there are cowards hidden in the crowds of patriotic people that have converted joy into sadness and the happiness of Mexican families into sorrow,” he said. (NYT, Sept. 17)

An anonymous spokeswoman of the federal Prosecutor General’s office said authorities are investigating a text message claiming La Familia, Michoacán’s local cartel, did not carry out the attack. The message, sent to the cell phones of reporters and Morelia residents, blames Gulf Cartel hitmen known as the Zetas—raising doubts about a supposed alliance between La Familia and the Gulf Cartel. Government Secretary Juan Camilo Mourino told reporters two men detained by the army in Zacatecas will be questioned to determine whether they were involved in the attack. (AP, Sept. 18)

In Washington, officials announced Sept. 17 what they called a significant blow to the Gulf Cartel with the arrests of 165 people in the US and 10 in Italy. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey said the arrests took place after a 15-month investigation undertaken in cooperation with authorities in Italy. The 10 arrested in Italy face charges related to trafficking drugs through New York. US authorities also unsealed indictments for three leaders of the cartel, Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén, Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano and Jorge Eduardo Costilla-Sánchez. All are believed to be on the run in Mexico.

Together with earlier arrests as part of the same operation, US authorities said they had arrested more than 500 suspects and seized more than 16 tons of cocaine and more than $60 million in currency. “We successfully completed a hard-hitting, coordinated and massive assault on the powerful and extremely violent Gulf Cartel,” said Michele M. Leonhart, acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, according to news agency reports. (NYT, Sept. 18)

Beheadings in Yucatán
Yucatán Gov. Ivonne Ortega blamed the Gulf Cartel for the beheadings of twelve people in his state. Eleven beheaded bodies with signs of torture were found dumped outside the city of MĂ©rida Aug. 28. A 12th beheaded body was found 50 miles east of the city, also showing signs of torture. “This seems to be the work of the Gulf Cartel,” Ortega told reporters, adding that she had received several threats from suspected drug gangs over the past months. “We will have to see where the heads turn up. I am sure they will try something spectacular to shock society.”

Three armed men were arrested Aug. 29 on suspicion of connection with the beheadings after ignoring instructions to stop at a police checkpoint on the road between MĂ©rida and CancĂşn. Police chased the men down after they fired shots at the checkpoint. (Reuters, Aug. 29)

Two Cubans are being held by federal police for suspected involvement in the beheadings. A Public Safety Department statement said the man and woman were arrested on a beach in CancĂşn after questioning the Mexicans arrested in the checkpoint incident. Police also raided a house, seizing an AK-47, a grenade and ammunition. (AP, Sept. 4)

See our last post on Mexico’s narco war.