12 slain in brazen Mexico attack

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Gunmen shot 12 people to death in broad daylight near the center of Culiacan on Thursday, marking one of the more bloody and brazen recent attacks in the capital of a state beset by drug trafficking and violence.

The Sinaloa state prosecutor's office said armed men opened fire in an auto repair shop about 11:20 a.m., killing six people inside and three more just outside the doors. Fleeing in sport utility vehicles, the gunmen then traded fire with police officers who gave chase in a busy commercial area filled with stores and fast-food restaurants.

The dead included three police officers. One was killed during the chase, and the other two died in a hospital.

The gunmen escaped. There were no immediate arrests.

Home to the so-called Sinaloa cartel headed by Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, the western state has a long history of drug violence. It has tallied more than 250 narcotics-related killings this year. But even law enforcement officials were stunned by Thursday's audacious slayings.

"It wasn't in the wee hours. It wasn't on the outskirts of the city. It was in the full light of day in the center of Culiacan in a busy area," said Carlos Parras, spokesman for the prosecutor's office. "So it appears to us to be a very serious and historic event in that sense."

Parras said Sinaloa Gov. Jesus Aguilar Padilla canceled a trip to Europe to remain in Culiacan in the wake of the violence.

Police have not identified any of the nine bodies found at the auto repair shop. Nor would they give a motive for the slayings.

Mexico has been rocked this year by a wave of narcotics-related violence stemming in part from a turf war that has erupted between the Sinaloa cartel and rivals vying to control lucrative smuggling routes to the United States.

The bloodshed also has been ratcheted up by a massive offensive launched by President Felipe Calderon to crack down on the drug trade.

About 40,000 soldiers and 5,000 federal police officers have been deployed in the government effort, leading to some significant arrests and major seizures of narcotics and weapons.

Calderon asserts that the cartels have been hurt badly by the operation and that related violence -- including more than 2,000 killings this year nationwide -- is a sign that the drug gangs are desperate and disorganized.

Critics, however, say the massive deployment of troops has done little but push the violence from one area to another and note that several high-level law enforcement officials have been slain.

Traffickers in Sinaloa recently hung posters mocking the 3,600 troops there as "little lead soldiers."

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