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2 More Victims in War of Drug Cartels

The head of an Acapulco police commander who had quit because of death threats is found, along with that of an unidentified man.

April 21, 2006|Hector Tobar and Carlos Martinez | Times Staff Writers

MEXICO CITY — The drug war in southern Mexico took a gruesome turn Thursday with the discovery of the decapitated head of a police commander who had resigned his post just days earlier in the face of death threats.

"So that you learn to respect," read a message scrawled on a red sheet attached to a Guerrero state government building in Acapulco, where passersby in the early morning hours discovered the heads of two men. One was determined to be that of former Cmdr. Mario Nunez Magana, 35, of the Acapulco Municipal Preventive Police; the other man was not immediately identified.

Officials in Acapulco would not confirm news reports that identified the second victim as a police officer.

More than 140 people, including many police officers and commanders, have been killed in the southern states of Guerrero and Michoacan this year as the so-called Sinaloa and Gulf cartels struggle for control of methamphetamine production, street drug sales, cocaine shipping points and other elements of a lucrative trade in illicit drugs.

The heads were discovered about 3 a.m. in a plaza fronted by a church and the state Finance and Administration headquarters, where Nunez led a police unit in January during a battle with gunmen believed to be from the rival cartels.

Four suspected narcos were killed in the January incident, which began with the drug bands fighting each other with automatic weapons and hand grenades. Nunez led the rapidresponse police unit that exchanged fire with the gunmen.

Two other suspected cartel operatives were seriously wounded, along with two passersby. Nunez had received death threats ever since, officials said.

After two months of hesitation, Nunez resigned his post over the weekend, said Jorge Valdez Reynosa, a spokesman for the Municipal Preventive Police.

"He wasn't happy," Valdez said. "He said he was getting threats."

Armed men kidnapped Nunez on Wednesday afternoon as he and his father traveled in a pickup truck near his home. "The kidnappers told his father not to get involved, that the problem wasn't with him," Valdez said.

After the discovery of the heads, which were inside separate plastic trash bags, police found the victims' bodies about 8 a.m. a few hundred yards away in the parking lot of a school.

Both bodies showed signs of being beaten.

"The hypothesis is that this is probably a revenge attack," Juan Heriberto Salinas, the head of public safety in Guerrero, told the Mexico City newspaper Reforma.

Nunez had been photographed in January pointing a weapon with his right hand at a prone suspect. Nunez's body was found Thursday with its right hand cut off, Salinas said.

The incident came hours after Guerrero Gov. Zeferino Torreblanca announced a $12-million project to give more firepower to police, who say they often are outgunned by the cartels. The state will purchase more than 1,400 rifles, 274 patrol vehicles, body armor and communications equipment.

Twelve people have been killed in drug-related violence in Acapulco this year. Grenades have become a weapon of choice, and were used in three other attacks along Guerrero's Pacific coast this month, in Acapulco and in Zihuatanejo and nearby Petatlan.

Acapulco officials have said the drug violence is not targeting foreigners and that the region's tourist industry has not seen a drop-off in visitors.

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