Mexico probes drug links in attacks

September 18, 2008 12:00 am

, MEXICO CITY, September 18 – Mexico focused on possible drug gang involvement in deadly attacks on Independence Day celebrations that sparked fears that civilians were now targets in the country’s drug wars.

Seven died and 108 were injured Wednesday as two grenades ripped through crowds gathered in Morelia city, Michoacan, the home state of President Felipe Calderon, late Monday.

"The first signs point to organized crime," a spokesman for the federal prosecutor’s office told AFP, declining to be named, after Michoacan’s state governor labelled the explosions a "terrorist attack."

The attacks showed "an escalation of violence, with a grenade explosion in the heart of the population," the spokesman added.

US ambassador to Mexico Antonio Garza directly blamed them on drug crime.

"I believe the narco-terrorists have gravely underestimated the courage, valor, and strength of the Mexican people," he said in a statement.

"This shameful attack only serves to underscore the cartels’ and organized crime’s complete disregard for human life and values."

Deadly attacks have spiked across Mexico since Calderon, who took office at the end of 2006, launched an anti-drug offensive from his home state of Michoacan.

But the violence, including gruesome beheadings and shotgun massacres, has mainly targeted gang members and security forces, and not civilians in public places.

Eight children and 83 adults, including nine seriously hurt, remained in hospital Wednesday as soldiers patrolled the shaken city of Morelia, some 250 kilometers (155 miles) west of Mexico City.

Meanwhile, an official from the state prosecutor’s office said they had prepared a photofit of a man suspected of throwing at least one grenade into the crowd of revellers.

He said it could be the same large man dressed in black described in witness accounts related by state governor Leonel Godoy.

A second grenade exploded in a nearby street shortly afterwards, but it was as yet unclear whether it was thrown by the same person, the official said, requesting anonymity.

Witness accounts and street camera images suggested the weapons were fragmentation grenades, he added.

"They are abominable attacks that clearly threaten national security, committed by traitors without the least respect for their neighbours or country," President Calderon said Tuesday.

Despite the deployment of more than 36,000 soldiers in his nationwide crackdown on drug-related violence, almost 3,000 people have been killed across the country so far this year, more than in all of 2007.


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