DURANGO, Mexico (Reuters) - Suspected drug gangs dumped the severed heads of five police officers and a prosecutor outside a church in northern Mexico on Wednesday as killings from the latest cartel violence rose to more than 60 in the past three days.
The heads were left in plastic bags near the church in Durango state before dawn. They were discovered by trash collectors as blood ran out of them onto the street, the state attorney general’s office said.
“These six were kidnapped on Monday night and then beheaded,” said a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office.
The beheadings appeared to be a revenge attack by the powerful Gulf cartel and its Zeta hitmen for the killing of 10 gang members in Durango by the army last week, police said.
The battle between rival cartels over smuggling routes into the United States has killed more than 60 people across Mexico this week in the latest sign President Felipe Calderon’s army-backed crackdown is only provoking more violence.
Drug gang members in Tijuana, across from San Diego, killed more than 20 people in the past 24 hours, chopping up and beheading victims, while drug murders have escalated in Ciudad Juarez on the Texas border. The city has become one of the world’s murder capitals this year.
Drug gangs are becoming increasingly brazen despite a 49,000-strong troop presence across Mexico. In Calderon’s home state of Michoacan in central Mexico, suspected drug gangs threw grenades near the state government palace on Tuesday, seriously injuring a pregnant woman and a young girl.
“The government has weakened and fragmented some of the major cartels, but in the progress has upset the balance of cartel power,” said U.S. security consultancy Stratfor in a report on Wednesday. “The result has been an increase in violence as formerly allied cartels have been pitted against each other in battles of attrition,” it added.
More than 16,000 people have been killed in drug violence in Mexico since Calderon launched his drug war in late 2006.
The United States, which worries about the growing power of the cartels, says the rising death toll is a sign the drug gangs are weakening under the military crackdown.
But Mexicans are angry at the army’s inability to stop the violence and have called for a withdrawal in some cities.
Additional reporting and writing by Robin Emmott in Monterrey; Editing by Peter Cooney