Bustamante, Nuevo Leon - Eight gunmen were killed and several others wounded in a shootout with Mexican marines at a ranch in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, a military spokesman said Monday.
The shootout started Sunday afternoon when marines arrived aboard helicopters and in vehicles at a ranch near the town of Bustamante that served as a training facility for Los Zetas, a gang of army deserters turned criminals, a navy officer said.
The marines found nearly 80 gunmen who had gathered to prepare and launch an offensive against the gang’s rivals in the ongoing war for control of the drug trade in northern Mexico, the officer said.
The Zetas opened fire on the helicopters, drawing return fire from the marines, who killed several of the gunmen, the military spokesman said.
The gunmen fled from the ranch in several vehicles, heading in different directions and avoiding capture despite a land and air search that did not end until early Monday.
The marines suffered no casualties, the military spokesman said.
The operations targeting Los Zetas in Nuevo Leon started on Friday, when 100 marines occupied a neighborhood in the Monterrey suburb of Escobedo, capturing three gunmen who were being treated at a private clinic used by the group to care for its wounded.
Eight sicarios killed.
Los Zetas, which controls sections of Nuevo Leon and several other states, is currently at war with Mexico’s major drug trafficking outfits.
Those groups – the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels, and La Familia Michoacana – are said to be determined to eliminate Los Zetas because the group is behind kidnappings, extortion and vehicle robberies that have affected their businesses.
Also on Monday, officials in the northern state of Chihuahua said police found the bodies of five men in their 20s who were killed and dumped on the side of a road.
The bodies were discovered Sunday night on a road outside Hidalgo del Parral, a town some 222 kilometers (138 miles) south of Chihuahua city, the state capital, Chihuahua state Attorney General’s Office spokesman Eduardo Esparza said.
The bodies were under an SUV and more than 50 shell casings were found at the crime scene, Esparza said.
The southern state of Guerrero, meanwhile, was buffeted by a wave of violence over the weekend, with at least 35 people dying in drug-related clashes involving rival criminal groups.
The incidents that occurred in the past few days in Guerrero were part of a cartel war involving some of the same groups that are at odds with each other in northern Mexico, officials told Efe.
The majority of the killings in Guerrero occurred in Greater Acapulco during a holiday weekend when hotels were at 75 percent occupancy.
The carnage, however, started Saturday in Ajuchitlan del Progreso, a town about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Acapulco, where 10 gunmen and a soldier died in a battle before hundreds of witnesses.
Guerrero has been one of the states most affected by the wave of violence unleashed in Mexico three years ago, when the government declared war on drug traffickers and the cartels began battling for control of turf.
More than 17,000 people have died in drug-related violence since December 2006, the majority of them people supposedly involved in the illegal trade, unofficial reports say.
Mexico’s most powerful drug trafficking organizations, according to experts, are the Sinaloa, Tijuana, Gulf, Juarez and Beltran Leyva cartels, and La Familia Michoacana.
Los Zetas, a group of army special forces veterans and deserters who initially worked as hitmen for the Gulf cartel, are now operating as a cartel, having broken with their former employers, some experts say.