Mexico ambush: 13 state police killed in attack on convoy

By David Agren

Thirteen Mexican police officers and investigators have been killed in an ambush as they travelled through a rural region – marking the latest attack on law enforcement by brazen criminal groups.

Eight state police officers and five members of the state’s investigative police force died in the ambush in the municipality of Coatepec Harinas, 125km (78 miles) south-west of Mexico City in Mexico state on Thursday afternoon, according to officials.

“This is an affront to the Mexican state and we will respond with total force and with the backing of the law,” the security secretary of Mexico state, Rodrigo Martínez-Celis, told reporters. The state’s attorney general’s office said the officers were travelling through the region “to combat criminal groups”.

Mexico state, which surrounds the national capital on three sides and is home to more than 15 million residents, is rife with drug cartels and organised crime.

An intelligence report from the state government obtained by news organisation Animal Politico in September identified 26 criminal groups operating in the state – with La Familia Michoacana and the Jalisco New Generation Cartel fighting for control of key territories. La Familia is thought to control the territory where the officers were ambushed and run extortion rings there, controlling the prices of everything from tortillas to building materials, according to the report.

Photos posted on social media showed bloodied bodies of officers in uniforms and street clothes strewn at the crime scene, alongside a white pickup pockmarked with bullet holes.

Attacks on police have become routine in Mexico as the country’s travails with drug cartels and organised crime drag on and the murder rate remains stubbornly high. At least 524 Mexican police officers were killed in 2020, according to anti-crime NGO Causa en Común. Criminal groups cowing or colluding with police forces can also be common in parts of Mexico.

Police are often in a bind and “either don’t comply with criminal demands and suffer the consequences, or they comply and get targeted by other groups at odds with those they’ve engaged with”, said Falko Ernst, senior Mexico analyst at the International Crisis Group.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador promised to pacify the country with a less confrontational approach – “hugs not bullets” he often said in his 2018 campaign – while also addressing issues such as corruption and poverty.

He has subsequently promoted the formation of a militarised police known as the National Guard, which operates under military leadership.