Friday, April 16, 2010

Deadly Street Shootout Strikes Fear in Acapulco

In the Mexican resort city, gunmen fire at two men in a car and federal police officers. They also shoot at other vehicles, leaving behind casings from AK-47s, which are favored by drug hit men.

Acapulco, Guerrero - A chaotic shootout Wednesday on a hotel-lined boulevard in the beach resort city of Acapulco left as many as six people dead, Mexican authorities said. Police said the gunbattle started when "armed men traveling in several vehicles opened fire on the occupants of another vehicle," killing both men.

Federal police officers patrolling the area came under fire after they heard gunshots and saw attackers shooting at two men in a car, authorities said. The gunmen also shot at other vehicles as they tried to flee, riddling dozens of cars with bullet holes.

It was unclear why the men were targeted. Drug gangs have staged shootouts in Acapulco before, but seldom in broad daylight amid heavy traffic, and never with such a toll among bystanders.

Police tried to intercept the gunmen's vehicles.

"In their attempt to escape, the assailants opened fire on several private vehicles, killing three people, including a child," federal police said in a statement.

While police officers may have tried to return fire, the area was littered with hundreds of shell casings from AK-47 assault rifles — a weapon used almost exclusively by Mexico's drug cartels.

One federal police officer died in a shootout with gunmen, but at least three of the dead seemed to have been bystanders caught in the crossfire. Five other people suffered wounds and about a dozen vehicles were riddled with bullets.

The victims included a woman and her 8-year-old daughter. No tourists appeared to have been killed. A federal officer was also slain during the shootout with gunmen, which erupted on busy Miguel Aleman Boulevard, the main tourist drag.

Five people were wounded, according to public safety authorities in Guerrero state.

The midafternoon gun battle could be heard in nearby hotels. Hundreds of spent casings from AK-47 assault rifles -- the type favored by drug-gang hit men -- littered the street. Cars reportedly crashed into one another as innocent drivers tried to escape the shooting.

Guests and workers at the beach-side Hotel Playa Suites, next to where the shooting took place, were rattled by the confusing scene as police poured into the area.

"Police arrived and they kept our guests and workers from leaving, and this unfortunately caused panic among our guests," said Laura Toledo, a reservations manager. "Our customers weren't aware of the shootout, and they became alarmed when so many federal police arrived."

She said most of the guests are foreigners.

Federal police said they detained a 26-year-old and said he apparently worked for Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a U.S.-born drug capo who has been engaged in a bloody battle in the Acapulco area with former colleagues in the Beltran-Leyva drug cartel.

The battle caused a huge traffic jam on the busy Miguel Aleman Boulevard, after some drivers crashed into each other and others tried to cross the palm-lined median strip in a desperate attempt to flee the shooting.

"An 8-year-old girl died when she was being transferred in an ambulance, and her mother also died," city police said in a statement. A policeman at the scene said the mother had apparently just picked her daughter up from school when they were caught in the hail of bullets.

The intersection where the shooting occurred marks the start of a strip where high-rise hotels alternate with open strips of beach and is among the city's most heavily traveled and best-known areas.

In June, 18 people were killed in a fierce battle between suspected drug cartel gunmen and government forces in a separate section of Acapulco's hotel zone, favored by Mexican visitors. None of the dead were tourists.

Wednesday's shootout, in one of the country's best-known resort towns during the spring vacation season, is unwelcome news for Mexican officials. Mexico has repeatedly sought to reassure tourists that they face little risk of being caught up in the country's escalating drug violence because most of it takes place far from resort areas.

More than 22,000 people have died since the government of President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown against drug traffickers in December 2006. Most of the killings stem from feuds between rival trafficking groups along the U.S. border and in key trafficking zones.

Acapulco, which has sought to regain its former glory as a stylish tourist haven, has seen scores of drug-related gang killings during the last three years, though few were in areas frequented by tourists.

The resort is in the Pacific state of Guerrero, an important smuggling corridor and, like many other tourist spots, also coveted by traffickers as a market for street sales.

Turf battles among rival gangs have left more than 300 people dead in and around Acapulco since the Calderon administration's crackdown began, according to confidential government figures cited Wednesday.

Also Wednesday, the Mexican army said two soldiers and two gunmen died in a shootout in a northern Mexico area that has seen a recent spike in drug violence.

The army said soldiers patrolling in the border state of Nuevo Leon gave chase to six suspicious cars that crossed into neighboring Tamaulipas state, where a gunbattle ensued in the town of Comales.

The army said in a statement Wednesday that three soldiers and several gunmen were wounded in the clash on Tuesday. It said that 200 soldiers and two helicopters were deployed to the area to locate the assailants.

The northeastern states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, across from Texas, have seen a surge of violence in recent weeks that authorities blame on a fight between the Gulf cartel and the Zetas.





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