GUADALAJARA, Mexico (AP) - A baker, a truck driver, a soft-drink vendor and a dental technician were among the 26 men found bound, gagged, slain and left in the center of Guadalajara, a state prosecutor said Friday.
Written in motor oil on the victims' bodies were the names of the Zetas and Millenium drug cartels. Law enforcement officials and analysts saw that as a possible indication the two allied gangs were announcing their intent to seize a city historically controlled by the powerful Sinaloa cartel.
The Zetas and Sinaloa have emerged from years of Mexican drug wars as the largest cartels in the nation, and potential competitors for control of smuggling and other businesses worth billions of dollars a year. Both frequently form alliances of convenience with smaller local gangs.
Analysts cautioned, however, that the killers in Guadalajara may also have been engaging in an isolated act of retaliation for the slaughter of dozens of men dumped on a roadway in September 600 miles away in the eastern, Gulf coast city of Veracruz. Authorities blamed that killing on the New Generation, a gang believed to be working with the Sinaloa cartel. A video posted by men claiming to be the Veracruz killers said the victims were Zetas.
The next few weeks will be crucial in determining whether Guadalajara, Mexico's second largest city, begins dissolving into the chaotic killing, kidnapping and streetfighting that has devastated cities and towns along the U.S. border, said Samuel Logan, director of Southern Pulse, a risk analysis firm specializing in Latin American organized crime.
"The Mexican government has to react quickly and strongly," Logan said. "This could be the beginning of Guadalajara moving into a more insecure environment ... We need a little more time to watch things play out."
The identities of 14 of the men slain in Guadalajara were released Friday by Jalisco state prosecutor Tomas Coronado, who said that only two had criminal records, without providing details.
Among the victims were Alejandro Robles Vidal, 22, who had been working as a dental technician in the nearby city of Zapopan for three years and disappeared Monday evening.
He was identified by his father, Coronado said.
Also among the dead was Jose Antonia Parga Guareno, 23, a cargo-truck driver who disappeared Tuesday and was identified by his father, Coronado said.
The prosecutor cautioned the press and public not to draw conclusions about the victims' potential involvement in drug cartel activity, saying that would be one of the subjects of the investigation.
He said the victims died of strangulation or blows to the head.
Earlier, he told MVS Radio that even though a message signed by the Zetas was left in one of the cars, investigators had not confirmed that the cartel was responsible.
Guadalajara sits on the main highway running through western Mexico from the methamphetamine-producing state of Michoacan north toward the Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa where the cartel of the same name is based.
In Michoacan on Friday, the entire 32-member police department of the town of Caracuaro resigned following a series of threats from drug gangs and the near-kidnapping of almost half the force earlier in the day.
Fourteen of the town's officers were surrounded by gunmen, presumably from a drug cartel, and had to be rescued by soldiers. After their rescue, they fled the town, and the rest of the officers resigned.
Caracuaro town councilman Mario Tentory said officers had reported getting threats for some time. He said the Mexican army had temporarily taken over security duties in the town, which is in an area where cartels have long operated.
According to press reports, drug traffickers were angered because the police had participated in a firefight with gunmen in a neighboring town.
It was the fourth town in Michoacan where the entire police force has resigned in recent years.
"Now nobody wants to work for the local police, because everybody knows there is a law of 'cooperate or get shot'," Tentory said.
In recent months, security officials and analysts have worried that the region around Guadalajara could become a target for the Zetas, which has rapidly expanded since breaking with its old allies in the Gulf cartel in 2010.
The Zetas have been expanding west from their base on the Gulf coast, and Sinaloa has apparently been sending proxy forces eastward into the territory of the Zetas or their allies.
Killings in Guadalajara slowed to a trickle during the Oct. 15-30 Pan American Games, which brought a big influx of police and soldiers. Law enforcement officials and analysts said they were nonetheless concerned a Zetas onslaught could be imminent.
On Wednesday, 17 bodies were found burned in two pickup trucks in a strikingly similar attack in Sinaloa, the home state of the Sinaloa cartel. Twelve of the bodies were in the back of one truck, some of them handcuffed and wearing bulletproof vests.
Coronado said he was in contact with authorities in Sinaloa to determine if the deaths in Sinaloa and Guadalajara were related, because they were at least superficially similar.