Scores killed and arrested as wave of violence erupts across western Mexico

Scores of buses and cars have been set alight in the violence
Scores of buses and cars have been set alight in the violence

Seven people were killed, 19 were wounded and 19 were arrested as a wave of violence erupted across western Mexico this weekend.

Drug cartel operatives shot down a military helicopter, blocked 39 roads with burning vehicles and set fire to 11 banks and 16 petrol stations around Guadalajara, Mexico’s second biggest city, in Jalisco state.

Mexican officials said the paramilitary-style attacks were trigged on Friday by the launch of a military operation to bolster security in the state and apprehend members of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, a powerful organisation responsible for a number of recent attacks against the authorities.

The cartel had previously used burning buses to block off major roads across Guadalajara on three occasions in the last three years, each time in response to the arrests of key figures. It is thought to be a diversionary tactic to enable other leaders to escape arrest.

Friday’s coordinated attacks surpassed those past instances in terms of scale and audacity, with the violence affecting 25 towns across Jalisco and spilling over into at least three neighbouring states.

It began with a convoy of cartel gunmen opening fire at a Cougar helicopter loaded with military personnel. The attack left three soldiers dead, three more missing and 12 others injured as the helicopter was forced into an emergency landing.

Cartel operatives then began hijacking and emptying cars and public buses before setting them ablaze to form rudimentary roadblocks, as well as torching petrol stations and banks that were empty because of the three-day holiday weekend that began on Friday.

Panic spread across the region with unverified news and rumours circulating on social media, while authorities advised people to remain in their homes until the situation was under control. Jalisco Governor Aristoteles Sandoval called for “citizens to remain calm and to ignore information that is not confirmed by officials”.

Writing on Twitter, President Enrique Peña Nieto lamented the loss of life and vowed to punish the culprits. “The criminal group responsible for the events today will be dismantled, as has happened to other criminal organisations,” he said.