Morelia suspect tells of holding grenade

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Slumped at an interrogation table, a gang member accused of participating in an attack that killed eight people at an Independence Day celebration described calmly how he was eager to get rid of the grenade he tossed into a crowded plaza.

“I was hiding it in my hands and it made me shudder,” Juan Carlos Castro Galeana told his interrogator. “I was desperate to get rid of it.”

Castro added that he thought the attack, which he said he was ordered to carry out, was meant to “provoke” the government. He appears in a video posted Saturday on the website of El Universal newspaper. The video was obtained from the attorney general’s office, the newspaper said.

Castro is one of three men arrested by Mexican authorities as suspects in the Sept. 15 assault during a revered national celebration in Morelia, the hometown of President Felipe Calderon. It was the first major deliberate attack on civilians in Mexico’s raging drug war.

Federal prosecutors earlier announced the arrests of Castro and two other men, Julio Cesar Mondragon Mendoza and Alfredo Rosas Elicea. All three confessed to the grenade attack, the attorney general’s office said.

Prosecutors said the three belong to a notorious gang of hit men known as the Zetas who work for the powerful east-coast drug-running Gulf cartel. The men were arrested by security forces, acting on an anonymous tip, in Apatzingan, a drug stronghold in the state of Michoacan. Morelia is the capital of Michoacan.

More than 100 people, including children, were injured in the attack, which stunned a nation already reeling from drug violence that has claimed thousands of lives. The victims have included police officers, people involved in the drug trade and bystanders. The bloodshed in Morelia, however, appeared to signal a new level of brutality and starker challenge to the government because civilians were targeted during an important national celebration.

Authorities initially focused on a criminal gang active in Morelia known as La Familia. But then banners appeared in the picturesque colonial town, purportedly the work of La Familia, which blamed the Zetas. Authorities said they were still investigating both groups and had not yet eliminated suspects.