CULIACAN, Mexico — A fresh clash between soldiers and suspected criminals in northwest Mexico left 12 dead, including two soldiers, a state official said Wednesday.
At least 22 others have been killed in similar clashes in Sinaloa state, home to the eponymous drug cartel, since Saturday.
In the latest clash, men armed with grenades and high caliber weapons attacked several military patrol vehicles on a road in the Guasave municipality, said a press officer from the state attorney general’s office, declining to be named.
“Ten of the dead were civilians, apparently members of an armed group, and two were soldiers… who were on patrol,” he said.
The clash occurred in the Estacion Bamoa community early Wednesday and the outlaws briefly took shelter in a local hotel before it was taken over by soldiers.
Schools in the area, some 1,000 miles (1,500 kilometers) northwest of Mexico City, suspended classes and local businesses also closed.
Soldiers seized one vehicle and a burned out vehicle remained at the site, according to the prosecutor’s office. Soldiers also seized weapons including a Barrett rifle which can penetrate armored vehicles.
Sinaloa state, on the Pacific coast, is the cradle of Mexico’s drug trafficking industry and one of the worst affected areas in a wave of drug-related violence blamed for more than 50,000 deaths nationwide since 2006.
Violence has surged since the government of President Felipe Calderon deployed tens of thousands of troops to take on organized crime five and a half years ago.
The Sinaloa cartel is led by Mexico’s most wanted fugitive, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and is considered the country’s most powerful drug gang, working across the globe.
A series of clashes between soldiers and outlaws have been reported in Sinaloa state since Saturday, leaving another 22 dead.
The clashes occurred in Choix municipality, some 120 miles (190 kilometers) from Guasave, in an area known as the Golden Triangle — a hotbed of drug trafficking activity between the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua and Durango.
Officials said 20 outlaws, one soldier and one police officer had been killed.
Sinaloa state governor Mario Lopez on Tuesday announced “special operations” in several municipalities “so that citizens don’t have to move around in fear of criminals.”