Assailants on Tuesday gunned down the mother, aunt and siblings of a marine killed in a raid that took out one of Mexico’s most powerful cartel leaders–sending a chilling message to troops battling the drug war: You go after us, we wipe out your families.
The brazen pre-dawn slayings came just hours after the navy honored Melquisedet Angulo as a national hero at a memorial service.
“The message is very clear: It’s to intimidate not only the government but its flesh and blood,” said Jorge Chabat, a Mexican expert on drug cartels. “It’s to intimidate those in the armed forces so they fear not only for their own lives, but the lives of their families.”
Federal officials had warned last week’s killing of drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva, known as the “boss of bosses,” could provoke a violent backlash from smugglers, who have gone after federal police in the past following the arrest of high-ranking cartel members.
Beltran Leyva was among the most-wanted drug lords in Mexico and the United States, and was the biggest trafficker taken down by President Felipe Calderon’s administration so far. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials blamed his cartel for much of the bloodshed across Mexico.
Hit men linked to Beltran Leyva’s cartel have a strong presence in Tabasco, a Gulf state bordering Guatemala, and were suspected of being behind the attack. State and federal forces searching for the assailants set up roadblocks across the state Tuesday.
Angulo, 30, was the only marine killed in the Dec. 16 raid that sparked a nearly two-hour shootout at an apartment complex in the colonial city of Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City. Two other marines were wounded.
Angulo was also the only marine whose identity was made public of the more than 60 who took part in the operation, which also left six other gunmen dead in addition to Beltran Leyva. Mexican troops never have their names or numbers on their uniforms to protect their identities.
The Tabasco attack came exactly one year to the day after authorities found the bodies of seven decapitated soldiers and five other victims in southern Guerrero state, a region where the Beltran Leyva cartel has been battling for control. The bodies were accompanied by a sign that warned: “For every one of mine that you kill, I will kill 10.” A bag of their heads, some still gagged with tape, was found nearby.
Those slayings, in Chilpancingo, an hour north of the resort of Acapulco, marked the worst attack against the Mexican army in its half-century battle against drug gangs.
After the gruesome discovery, the government held a high-profile ceremony aimed at reassuring the nation it would not surrender. Officials also released the names of the troops–just as the navy did Monday when it honored Angulo. Their sobbing wives appeared on national television receiving the flags that had been draped on their husbands’ coffins.