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Huge shootout rattles Tijuana neighborhood

January 18, 2008|Richard Marosi | Times Staff Writer

TIJUANA — Hundreds of police officers and soldiers waged a three-hour gun battle against heavily armed men here Thursday, as residents of a normally quiet neighborhood ran for their lives. One suspect was killed and six kidnapping victims were found dead after the shootout.

Four police officers were injured as a monthlong crackdown on Tijuana's crime cartels escalated.

The working-class neighborhood of La Mesa resembled a war zone. Crying children streamed from an elementary school, escorted by terrified parents. People lay on sidewalks and streets as bullets flew overhead. Some huddled inside their homes.

The six abducted men were found handcuffed, blindfolded and shot execution style, federal authorities said.

Four suspects were arrested, including two police officers -- one state and one city. All were being taken to Mexico City, a common procedure for organized crime suspects.

Federal authorities said the suspects were part of the Arellano Felix cartel, which has controlled crime in the city for years.

"We've entered a new era," said Victor Clark Alfaro, director of the Binational Center for Human Rights and a lifelong Tijuana resident.

This week, gunmen killed three police officers, the wife and two daughters of one of them, and a young couple and their 3-year-old son.

The confrontation Thursday began in the morning as the three slain police officers were being buried across town. Police quickly scrambled to La Mesa, where officers had surrounded a house. Gunfire erupted as officers approached and they peppered the house with automatic weapons fire.

Later, bomb threats forced the evacuation of City Hall and police headquarters, but no explosives were found.

Police officials have said criminals are waging a campaign of terror in response to a crackdown launched in December by the city's new administration.

To support the effort, the government sent 1,000 federal police officers to the state of Baja California last week, half of them to Tijuana. Hundreds of soldiers are also participating in the crackdown.

--

richard.marosi@latimes.com

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