In the worst single execution-style slaying of federal forces in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón took office, the bodies of 12 officers were found alongside a road in the state of Michoacán, Mexican authorities confirmed Tuesday. The corpses showed signs of torture.
The news came as an armed gang shot dead a mayor near the US border, capping a vicious 48-hour period that has seen 30 people killed.
Since President Calderón launched a military offensive against organized crime in December 2006, hundreds of police and military officers have been killed. The Calderón administration has shown no signs of backing away from confronting the drug cartels. But the torture and killing of these officers could foreshadow a new surge in battles in the state of Michoacán.
Mexican authorities say the attack was part of a continued retaliation by La Familia, a cartel based in Michoacán that has grown in force in the past few years. Over the weekend, after one of La Familia's alleged leaders was arrested by federal authorities, the cartel coordinated shootouts against federal officers in at least six cities across the state.
"This is the cartel that attacks the authorities with the most belligerence," Monte Alejandro Rubido, a national security spokesman, said Tuesday at a press conference. "We shouldn't be surprised at this kind of reaction."
The officers, 11 men and one woman, were off duty at the time of the attack, and had been investigating organized crime, Mr. Rubido said. The bodies were found in a pile on the highway outside the mountain town of La Huacana.
Epicenter of drug violence: Michoacán
Michoacán, Calderón's native state, has been at the center of his effort to combat drug trafficking. He also carried out what was considered an unprecedented sweep of local officials alleged to be colluding with drug traffickers, including the arrests of mayors throughout the state, in May.
But violence has continued there.
La Familia cartel infamous
La Familia garnered world infamy in 2006 when gunmen stormed into a dance club and hurled five human heads onto the dance floor in Uruapan, Michoacán. Last September, a grenade was launched into a plaza during a public holiday. La Familia has grown as other drug-trafficking groups have splintered, as they have vied for control over operations and smuggling routes in their state.
Calderón said on Tuesday that the government will not be intimidated by such violence. "In this fight we will not give in nor will we doubt," he said.
But in a poll published in the daily newspaper Milenio by the Mexico-based polling group Cabinet of Strategic Communication, more than half of Mexicans consider organized crime to be winning against the government effort. Only 28 percent said the government is gaining ground.
• Material from wire services was used in this report.