A shootout between gunmen and army troops left five criminals and a female motorist dead, and a girl wounded on a highway outside Monterrey, the capital of the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon, police said Wednesday.
The woman was driving on the highway when the shootout started Tuesday night on the Libramiento Noreste perimeter road near Escobedo, a city in the northern section of the Monterrey metropolitan area, a municipal police spokesman told Efe.
Army troops spotted two SUVs carrying armed men and gave chase, triggering a running shootout for several kilometers.
An SUV carrying a woman and two children was hit by gunfire at kilometer 20 of the highway, the police spokesman said.
Shots fired by the gunmen killed the woman, who was found lying on the front seat, the Escobedo municipal police department spokesman said.
Officers transported an 8-year-old girl with leg wounds to a hospital, while the boy was placed under police guard until relatives picked him up, the police spokesman said.
The gunmen fired a grenade at the soldiers while trying to get away, setting an SUV on fire.
The SUV’s driver was not hurt, the Escobedo municipal police department spokesman said.
Soldiers killed the five gunmen aboard one of the SUVs, but the other vehicle managed to speed away.
More than 1,000 people have died since March 2010 in the drug war being waged by rival cartels in the Monterrey metropolitan area.
At least 35 innocent people have died in incidents in the area over the past 12 months, Nuevo Leon Security Council figures show.
Nuevo Leon and neighboring Tamaulipas state have been rocked by a wave of violence unleashed by drug traffickers battling for control of smuggling routes into the United States.
The violence has intensified in the two border states since the appearance in Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon, in February 2010 of giant banners heralding an alliance of the Gulf, Sinaloa and La Familia drug cartels against Los Zetas.
A total of 15,270 people died in drug-related violence in Mexico last year, and more than 35,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the country’s cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006.
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.