MEXICO CITY – The massacre of nine members of a Mormon extended family based in northern Mexico appears to be the result of a turf battle between rival drug cartels, authorities said Wednesday.
The Mexican army’s chief of staff, Brig. Gen. Homero Mendoza Ruiz, told a press conference that as initially suspected, Monday’s bloodbath was connected to events hours earlier in Agua Prieta, a town on the United States border where at least one person died in a pre-dawn clash between the La Linea and Los Salazar groups.
La Linea is thought to be a offshoot of the Juarez drug cartel, while Los Salazar may have links to the powerful Sinaloa cartel, whose founder, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, is currently serving a life sentence in a US prison.
“It is assumed that the criminal organization La Linea, in the face of Los Salazar’s intention to move into Chihuahua (state), decided to send a cell between Janos (Chihuahua) and Bavispe (Sonora state),” Mendoza Ruiz said a day after traveling to the crime scene with Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard and Navy Secretary Jose Rafael Ojeda.
La Linea’s decision to deploy gunmen to block the move by Los Salazar may have caused the tragedy, given that the Mormons were on the road in the area at the time.
The Mormons, all members of the same extended family, were traveling in SUVs – commonly used by cartel gunmen – and La Linea could have mistaken them for Los Salazar, Mendoza Ruiz said.
Three women and six children were killed, while six other children were wounded. One child emerged unharmed and another child initially feared abducted was later found.
We are “attributing the implementation of the attack against the LeBaron and Langford families” to La Linea, Mendoza Ruiz said.
The attack began just after 12:00 pm Monday on a highway running parallel to the US border as the three women and 14 children were traveling from the La Mora ranch in Sonora to Janos, Chihuahua.
Tuesday, on learning of the massacre, US President Donald Trump went on Twitter to offer Mexican counterpart Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador military assistance in fighting Mexico’s drug cartels.
“This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!” Trump tweeted.
Lopez Obrador said that Mexico had to address the problem “in an independent manner,” while welcoming cooperation “within the framework of current law and bilateral agreements.”
The two presidents subsequently discussed the massacre in a telephone call.
Because all of the victims had dual US-Mexican citizenship, Mexico will keep US authorities apprised of progress in the investigation, Ebrard said Wednesday, just as American law enforcement kept the Mexican government informed in the wake of the Aug. 3 mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, where the 22 fatalities included eight Mexican nationals.
It will be up to the Mexican Attorney General’s Office to decide whether to request assistance from the FBI, the foreign secretary said.
During his daily press conference, Lopez Obrador pointed to collaboration among Mexican federal, state and local authorities in the investigation.
He downplayed the idea that the US was pressuring Mexico over the case, noting that while he thanked Trump for the offer of help, there was no discussion of direct American involvement.
“We appreciate it very much because it’s not that interventionist eagerness, that arrogance of wanting to meddle in affairs that are solely the responsibility of the Mexican people, rather (the US) gave a demonstration of solidarity, of support, if we request it,” Lopez Obrador said.