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7 slain in Mexico police stations

The two Acapulco attacks are carried out by gunmen dressed as soldiers. Authorities see a link to drug cartels.

February 07, 2007|Hector Tobar and Carlos Martinez | Times Staff Writers

MEXICO CITY — Gunmen disguised as soldiers attacked two police stations and killed seven people Tuesday in the resort city of Acapulco, and apparently videotaped the slayings, police and media reports said.

Police officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said the police stations had been at the center of a dispute between reform-minded state law enforcement officials and Acapulco police suspected of ties to drug traffickers.

Each attack was carried out by about eight men wearing olive-drab uniforms and berets, media reports said.

The assailants simultaneously entered the two stations, less than a mile apart, , said a police official who requested anonymity. City police officers suspected of ties to drug cartels recently had been replaced at the stations by state police, officials said.

All those killed were employees of the state police. Five were officers and two were secretaries.

Media reports said the assailants were armed with assault rifles, including AK-47-style weapons known in Mexico as "the goat's horn," a signature gun of drug cartels.

"They used Green Beret-type uniforms as a disguise, apparently," one police official said. "They caught the police completely by surprise."

Acapulco and other cities and towns on the Pacific Coast of Mexico are way stations in an illegal drug trade worth several billion dollars, U.S. officials said. Hundreds of tons of Colombian-produced cocaine are smuggled by ship to Mexico each year, and then transported by land to the United States.

Rival drug operations have been fighting each other for months over control of smuggling routes through Acapulco and other cities in Guerrero state and adjacent Michoacan state.

Since taking office in December, President Felipe Calderon has sent troops into both states and to Tijuana and Sinaloa state in an effort to control violence. There were more than 2,000 drug-related killings in Mexico last year, media reports say.

Calderon also ordered the extradition of 15 alleged drug bosses to the United States last month.

But the violence appears to have continued unabated.

Last week, two soldiers were executed in a hail of bullets in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa. On Monday, a high-ranking Sinaloa state police official was killed in Culiacan. In Guerrero state, assailants attacked a police station with hand grenades.

The slayings in Acapulco were carried out with a speed and precision that suggested professional hit men, authorities said.

The two police stations were about two miles from Acapulco's tourist center and near the port, an impoverished area notorious as a center for drug shipments.

Media reports said gunmen arrived at the first station in sport utility vehicles, entered the building and shot a secretary, an officer and the station's commander. Witnesses told police that at least one of the attackers was recording the assault with a video camera.

In the second attack, a gunman dressed as a soldier asked, "Is everyone here?" before opening fire. A secretary and three officers were killed.

Videos showing drug-related slayings in Mexico, complete with captions and soundtracks mocking rivals, have become a fixture on the Internet in the last year.

A report Monday in El Universal, a Mexico City newspaper, said federal officials suspected that Acapulco Mayor Felix Salgado Macedonio's 2005 election campaign was financed by the region's two largest drug cartels, who were fighting for control.

Federal officials said there was no proof that the mayor knew he was taking drug money. But they point out that he is now traveling with 14 bodyguards.

"You can't get involved with the cartels without there being consequences," one federal official told the newspaper.

hector.tobar@latimes.com

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Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.

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