Drug Violence Leads to Seven Police Deaths

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) - Seven police officers were assassinated
in about an hour's time in what authorities said Tuesday was a
coordinated effort that followed months of relative calm in a
border city stricken by drug-fueled violence. Two other officers
and a convenience-store employee were injured.

Several people were held briefly for questioning after Monday
night's attacks and released, said Jose Manuel Yepiz, spokesman for
the Baja California state attorney general's office.

"There is very strong indignation in the police force," Julian
Leyzaola, Tijuana's public safety secretary, told a news
conference. "We do not know the motive. We do not know where these
attacks came from."

After four officers were killed by gunfire outside the
convenience store, police scanners hummed with "narcocorridos,"
or drug ballads. One voice threatened over the airwaves that 30
officers would be killed.

The officers - three men and a woman - were found amid more than
200 bullet shells, the attorney general's office said. Witnesses
told authorities that the assailants' faces were covered and two
got out of the vehicle to finish off their victims.

Jovanni Fabiani, 14, heard a hail of gunfire while playing
football at a friends' house.

"There was a mountain of smoke," he said.

The boy said he arrived minutes later to find one officer
riddled with bullets from head to toe, including a shot in the
forehead. Another's body was partly was under a car with a hand
over her mouth, as if she was trying to hide.

One officer was shot dead in each of three attacks that
followed, including one at a police station that also left an
officer injured, the attorney general's office said. Another
officer was injured in an attack on a police booth.

One officer was killed on his police motorcycle, authorities
said. Witnesses reported that he was attacked by assailants in at
least two vehicles. Six bullet shells were recovered near his bike.

The killings come as Mayor Jorge Ramos intensifies an effort to
rid the police department of corrupt officers.

The city has fired 248 police officers accused of corruption
since Ramos took office in December 2006 and about 130 others are
suspended pending review for possible dismissal, Leyzaola said in
an interview last week. The city has 2,160 officers.

Leyzaola said last week that about 15 Tijuana police officers
had been killed on the job during Ramos' administration.

Nine police officers were killed last year in neighboring Playas
de Rosarito, a city of 130,000 people, including about 14,000 U.S.
citizens, Mayor Hugo Torres said. Seven or eight were involved in
drug trafficking, he said.

Monday's killings were one of the most brazen since a period of
bloodshed that claimed more than 400 lives in the last three months
of 2008. According to U.S. and Mexican authorities, Tijuana is a
battleground for two drug traffickers - Fernando Sanchez Arellano,
heir to the notorious but enfeebled Arellano Felix cartel, and
Teodoro Garcia Simental, a renegade lieutenant who broke away in
April 2008 in a shootout that killed 14 people.

Victor Clark Alfaro, director of the Binational Center for Human
Rights, said Tijuana officers have been killed before but never so
many in a single attack. He said the slayings may signal a new wave
of violence in Tijuana, across the border from San Diego,
California.

"The violence follows a pattern," he said. "It falls, then it
rises, then it falls. Today we are witnessing the beginning of the
curve rising again."

Nationwide, Mexico's drug violence has claimed more than 10,700
lives since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched an
anti-drug campaign. About 45,000 soldiers have been deployed to
drug-plagued areas.


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