Mexican authorities said Saturday that at least 19 people died in clashes involving armed men and security forces in the gang-ridden northwestern state of Sinaloa, where homicides have increased considerably after the capture and extradition of convicted drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
The violence began with a shooting Friday that killed two men near a department store in the town of Villa Union, about 15 miles southeast of the beach resort of Mazatlan.
Officials attributed it to warring drug gang members responsible for recent violence in the state, which is home to Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel.
“We believe it has to do with the transport of drugs and the fight for terrain, for the areas that these groups are fighting over,” Genaro Robles Casillas, the Sinaloa state public security secretary, said at a news conference.
Police were alerted by emergency calls, and municipal officers encountered the suspected attackers riding in several pickup trucks.
A fierce gun battle broke out in which police killed 17 suspects, officials said. Five municipal police officers were wounded, but reported to be in stable condition.
Elements of the marines, army and federal police also responded to support the local forces.
Sinaloa is the birthplace of a number of Mexico’s drug gang leaders, and the state has seen an increase in killings after Guzman was captured and then extradited to the United States this year to face drug charges.
Security experts say a power struggle has since broken out between opposing factions of the Sinaloa cartel, which also faces challenges from other gangs such as the Jalisco New Generation cartel.
During the first five months of the year, homicides rose by 76% in Sinaloa state compared with the same period in 2016, according to government crime statistics.
Those slain include Javier Valdez, an award-winning reporter who specialized in covering drug trafficking and organized crime. He was shot May 15 in the state capital, Culiacan.
Nationwide, homicides were up about 30% for the January-May period.