MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Suspected drug hitmen killed a carload of children and teenagers in northern Mexico in the latest of a rash of attacks on minors that have angered the public as drug gang violence spins out of control.
Ten youngsters aged from eight to 21 died on Sunday when gunmen opened fire and lobbed explosives at their pick-up truck after it sped through an improvised roadblock on an isolated highway in Durango state, in Mexico’s “Golden Triangle” drug-producing region, the attorney general’s office in Durango said.
Mexico’s drug cartels are growing ever more brazen, and a spate of brutal attacks in recent weeks, including the murder of two Americans, are worrying Mexicans along with tourists, foreign investors and the United States, which sent a high-level delegation to Mexico City last week.
Mexican soldiers on Monday captured a suspect linked to the fatal shooting this month of an American employee of the U.S. consulate in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, her U.S. husband and the Mexican husband of a fellow consulate worker.
Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont said on Monday the rampant violence only showed the importance of keeping up the pressure with the government’s army-led assault on drug traffickers. He waved off the idea of backing down.
“If some people think that events like those of the weekend where criminals slay youngsters in this cowardly way, if faced with these events Mexico is going to back off, they are mistaken,” Gomez Mont told a news conference.
Nearly 19,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006 and deployed tens of thousands of troops to drug hot spots across the country, sparking new turf wars between rival cartels.
But the conservative president’s anti-drugs strategy has been criticized following several brutal attacks on youths in the violent region along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In January, suspected drug cartel gunmen burst into a high school birthday party in the border city of Ciudad Juarez and killed 15 people, mostly minors, sparking angry protests from relatives and other city residents sick of daily violence.
Several of Sunday’s victims were related.
Gomez Mont said drug violence in Durango state was being driven by a violent turf war between the local Sinaloa alliance and the Zetas, the former armed wing of the rival Gulf cartel that is now trying to run its own smuggling operation.
Criminal gangs are known to sometimes set up military-style roadblocks to snag targets, and the northern business city of Monterrey was hit this month by a series of road barricades erected by armed men believed to be linked to drug gangs.
Writing by Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Cynthia Osterman