The unofficial death toll for Thursday morning’s battle between rival organized criminal groups has reached 29 according to reports coming out of the Nogales, Sonora area. The shootout occurred approximately 12 miles south of the little used border crossing point in the town of Sasabe, Arizona, located in Pima County.
According to Mexican press reports and official statements a large group of gunmen affiliated with the Sinaloa cartel and traveling in more than fifty vehicles was ambushed on the road to Sasabe between the small towns of Tubutama and Saric.
Since Wednesday evening residents of the neighboring towns reported a high number of pickup trucks and SUV’s traveling on the roads leading to Tubutama. By some estimates close to 100 vehicles assembled in Tubutama Wednesday night where X’s were painted on the windows and red cloths were attached to car doors and rear bumpers for identification purposes.
There are rumors that several active and former members of the Nogales police force were present in the group of armed men.
The convoy left Tubutama heading north on the desolate road to Saric early Thursday morning.
The purpose of the army of gunmen was a “cleansing operation” to dislodge a rival organized crime group that had seized the trafficking route from Saric north to the Arizona border. According to sources this group in Saric is aligned with the Beltran Leyva cartel and had already survived several encounters with Mexican army troops and federal police.
Residents reported a tremendous level of gunfire between 4:00 and 5:00 AM Thursday on the outskirts of Saric. According to statements from the state prosecutor’s office the group of gunmen traveling in the convoy was ambushed in an area where hills straddle the roadway by the rival group which had dug in on the high ground and directed a withering crossfire on the vehicles.
Municipal police were alerted and arrived first and were greeted by the carnage at the ambush site. At least 10 vehicles littered the roadway and the dead were laying on the road and inside their destroyed vehicles.
State police and army troops arrived soon after and sealed off the area to initiate the investigation and search for any remaining gunmen from either camp.
Ten men were taken into custody at the scene. Six of those arrested suffered non life threatening wounds. Two of those arrested were minors, one 15 year old and one 17 year old.
Official statements from the state prosecutor’s office put the death toll at 21 but observers at the scene said the number of deaths was much higher. The local media was removed from the scene as soon as the army arrived.
Several of the dead gunmen were reported to be from the states of Sinaloa and Tamaulipas.
As of Friday the area was still sealed off by roadblocks of army troops and police.
It was not known if the border crossing between the towns of Sasabe, Sorona and Sasabe, Arizona was temporarily closed.
It is in part due to the growing instability and lawlessness in Sonora and the border area that Arizona’s tough new immigration bill, SB 1070, was passed into law.
Southern Arizona serves as a major drug and human trafficking route for the rest of the nation. More than half of all illegal immigrants and drugs are apprehended on the Arizona border.
In recent months the level of violence in Arizona from Mexican smuggling operations has increased as the dispute between rival traffickers for the lucrative smuggling routes has spread north into the U.S.
The violence is mostly limited to encounters between traffickers stealing drug loads and kidnapping undocumented persons from rival smugglers.
Ranchers and residents in the sparsely populated areas of southern Arizona now say that drug loads and groups of undocumented aliens are escorted by armed guards.
Bureau of Land Management sign on I-8 just south of Casa Grande, Arizona approximately 90 miles from the border crossing in Sasabe, Arizona.
On March 27 of this year Robert Krentz, a prominent rancher in Cochise County was shot and killed in his ranch 20 miles from the border by in all likelihood an armed smuggler from Sonora. The day before the murder his brother, Phil Krentz, had called the border patrol to the Krentz ranch where 8 undocumented immigrants were arrested and 200 pounds of marijuana was seized.
Vehicles and weapons abandoned at ambush site