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Two held in Mexico in killings of 24

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Mexican authorities Thursday said they had arrested two suspects in the slayings of 24 men whose bodies were discovered in a wooded area outside Mexico City last month.

Federal prosecutors said one of the suspects is a municipal police commander in the state of Mexico, which surrounds the capital on three sides. The other, identified as having led the planning for the killings, runs a security company in the same state, officials said.

Authorities said the latter suspect has links to drug traffickers in the northern state of Sinaloa.

The bodies were found Sept. 12 in a forested park, known as La Marquesa, that is popular with hikers and other day-trippers from Mexico City. The mass killing bore signs of the drug-related violence that has racked the country, leaving more than 3,500 people dead nationwide this year, according to unofficial Mexican news media tallies.

But authorities have not provided details about a possible motive. A number of the dead were identified as brick masons from various Mexican states.

The newspaper El Universal has reported that some of the men may have been involved in building a drug-smuggling tunnel meant to span the border in the Baja California city of Mexicali. The newspaper, citing unidentified sources, said the men were killed after authorities found out about the tunnel project.

Eight men were arrested in Mexicali after police there found the 150-yard-long tunnel, which ended just short of the U.S. border.

In a statement, the attorney general's office said suspect Raul Villa Ortega, the security company owner, worked for a Sinaloa drug figure linked to traffickers known as the Beltran Leyvas. Villa, the suspected mastermind, was armed when the two were arrested Wednesday, authorities said.

The second suspect, Antonio Ramirez Cervantes, is a police commander in the town of Huixquilucan, prosecutors said.

The pile of bodies was among the most grisly developments in what has been a remarkably violent year, as a government crackdown against drug traffickers has stoked bloody feuds among gangs over control of smuggling routes and access to local markets.

In other developments, a Mexican soldier and four suspected hit men were reported dead after a gun battle late Wednesday in Tijuana, Mexican news reports said.

The border city has been the site of violent clashes, mostly between rival factions of the once-powerful Arellano Felix drug gang.

In the northern city of Monterrey, officials at the U.S. Consulate suspended visa services after gunshots apparently were fired nearby. Last weekend, gunmen fired shots at the consulate and hurled a grenade that didn't explode. No one was hurt in either incident.

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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