MEXICO CITY — Seven Mexican federal agents looking for an arms cache were killed early Tuesday in a shootout in the western state of Sinaloa, officials said.
The agents came under fire when they went to search a home in Culiacan, the state capital. Four agents were wounded.
At least one of the gunmen was reported killed during the confrontation, which occurred amid a wave of drug-related violence in Mexico. Two suspects were arrested, the federal Public Security Ministry said in a statement.
Authorities seized seven AK-47 assault rifles, dozens of ammunition clips and 500 rounds of ammunition. A photograph released by authorities after the shooting showed the white exterior of the two-story house peppered with bullet holes.
Crackdown on cartel
The state has registered more than 200 killings this year, mainly as a result of a vicious power struggle within one of Mexico's biggest drug gangs, the so-called Sinaloa cartel.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon dispatched 2,000 soldiers and federal agents to Sinaloa two weeks ago, the latest major deployment in his government's 18-month-old drive against organized crime.
Drug trafficking gangs have struck hard at police since the crackdown. A faction of the Sinaloa group is suspected in the assassination this month in Mexico City of the Federal Preventive Police agency's acting chief, Edgar Millan Gomez.
Calderon argues that the ferocity of the attacks against the government is a sign that the administration is making headway in an anti-crime campaign he often refers to as a war.
In Sinaloa, for example, troops and police officers have captured several mid- and upper-level gang members and seized drug shipments and more than 100 aircraft over the last 18 months.
A deadly year
The nation's attorney general, Eduardo Medina Mora, said last week that 1,378 people had died this year in drug-related violence. That number is 47% higher than the homicide total during the same period in 2007.
Medina Mora said 450 soldiers, police officers and other security officials were among the 4,152 people who have died in drug-related violence since Calderon launched his anti-crime drive on taking office in December 2006.
Local police officers are often on the payroll of drug traffickers, placing them in the cross hairs of rival gangs.
Much of the recent violence has taken place along the U.S. border and in Sinaloa, a longtime hub for drug traders seeking to move marijuana, cocaine and other narcotics north into the United States.
The mountainous state is a stronghold of suspected drug baron Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, but a group of former allies has broken away, leading to a recent spate of killings.
Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.