The sons of imprisoned drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman apparently launched a brazen and violent ambush on a military convoy using grenades and high-powered guns, killing five soldiers, officials said.
The attack in northern Sinaloa state yesterday left two military vehicles completely burned out and dead soldiers scattered across a highway. It was apparently launched to free a wounded drug suspect being transported in an ambulance guarded by the convoy.
“Up this point we are not certain about this group, but it is very probable that it was the sons of Chapo,” said local military commander Gen Alfonso Duarte.
The pre-dawn ambush was the worst attack on military personnel since 2015, when drug cartel gunmen in the state of Jalisco shot down an army helicopter with a rocket launcher, killing 10 people.
Yesterday’s attack on the outskirts of Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state, was unusual for the Sinaloa cartel, which Guzman headed until he was re-arrested in January, and is now run by his sons. The sons have apparently changed the rules of engagement long practiced by the father, who kept a low profile until last year.
The fierceness of the attack suggested that whoever was travelling in the ambulance escorted by the convoy was a high-ranking member of the cartel, or a person of interest to the gang.
“These groups acted with cowardice, in a premeditated manner, and the carried out the attack with weapons, with grenades,” while the soldiers had only automatic weapons, said Duarte.
Duarte said the attack was launched to free the suspect, who he identified as Julio Oscar Ortiz Vega, though he acknowledged the name might be a pseudonym.
Duarte said the wounded man had been picked up by soldiers following a gun fight in the township of Badiraguato, Guzman’s hometown. Duarte said that Guzman’s brother, known by his nickname as “El Guano,” has been fighting a turf battle against the Beltran Leyva cartel in the area “to control the means of drug production,” which include opium poppy fields.
A Sinaloa state official who was not authorised to be quoted by name said the attack killed four soldiers at the scene; a fifth later died of his wounds.
Meanwhile, authorities in Jalisco said Thursday they have found a total of nine bodies near a lake popular with tourists.
Jalisco state Attorney General Eduardo Almaguer said the bodies of eight men and one woman have not yet been identified, in part because of the rural nature of the area and the lack of witnesses.
The bodies have been found over the last few days in a river that leads out of the eastern end of Lake Chapala, near the border with the state of Michoacan. In 2013, 64 bodies were found in mass graves in area nearby.
That is the opposite end of the lake from the town of Chapala, popular among tourists and American retirees.