Marines arrested six police officers and four suspected drug cartel gunmen during an operation over the weekend in Apodaca, a city in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, that also left three civilians wounded, municipal officials said.
Gunmen blocked streets and highways in Apodaca, Guadalupe, Escobedo, San Nicolas and Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon, after the operation.
The operation started around noon Sunday, when marines went to search a house in the Valle de los Virreyes section of Apodaca, located in the eastern section of the Monterrey metropolitan area, and were greeted by gunfire.
The shootout was followed by a chase that terrified residents and parishioners at Cristo Buen Pastor Church attending Mass, the parish priest said.
Two women and a man driving through the area were wounded by gunfire, officials said.
The marines arrested six members of the Apodaca police department assigned to three patrol cars guarding the house where the suspected organized crime members lived.
Gunmen stole buses, trucks and other vehicles after the operation, using them to block avenues and highways in Monterrey and other cities in the metro area.
Nuevo Leon and neighboring Tamaulipas state have been rocked this year by a wave of violence unleashed by drug traffickers battling for control of smuggling routes into the United States.
About 350 people, according to official figures, have died in the gang war in Nuevo Leon since March.
The violence has intensified in the two border states since the appearance in Monterrey in February of giant banners heralding an alliance of the Gulf, Sinaloa and La Familia drug cartels against Los Zetas, a band of Mexican special forces deserters turned hired guns.
After several years as the armed wing of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
The cartels arrayed against Los Zetas blame the group’s involvement in kidnappings, armed robbery and extortion for discrediting “true drug traffickers” in the eyes of ordinary Mexicans willing to tolerate the illicit trade as long as the gangs stuck to their own unwritten rule against harming innocents.
Nearly 30,000 people have died in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon declared war on Mexico’s cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006.
The Mexico City daily Reforma reported recently that gangland killings have topped 10,000 this year in the country.
Calderon has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and Federal Police officers across the country to combat drug cartels and other criminal organizations.
The anti-drug operation, however, has failed to put a dent in the violence due, according to experts, to drug cartels’ ability to buy off the police and even high-ranking officials.
Images of the Marine operation this past Sunday in Apodaca, Nuevo Leon
The objective of the raid was this safehouse in the colonia Arboledas del Virrey in Apodaca. The head of the Zeta criminal organization in Apodaca, "El Teacher", and two other males were detained