Seventeen killed in Mexico drug battle near U.S.

Other News Materials 27 April 2008 14:55 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - Seventeen Mexican drug gang members were killed near the U.S. border on Saturday, their bodies scattered along a road after one of the deadliest shootouts in Mexico's three-year narco-war.

Rival factions of the Arellano Felix drug cartel in Tijuana on the Mexico-California border battled each other with rifles and machine guns in the early hours of the morning, police said.

Fourteen bodies were lying in pools of blood on a road near assembly-for-export maquiladora plants on the city's eastern limits. The corpses were surrounded by hundreds of bullet casings and many of their faces were destroyed.

The 15th body was found nearby. Two more men died in hospital on Saturday evening, police said.

Six men were wounded and another six were arrested, but some gang members are thought to have escaped.

Two of the dead were believed to be senior hitmen for the Arellano Felix cartel and were identified by large gold rings on their fingers. The rings carried the icon of Saint Death, a ghoulish figure that gangsters believe protects them, police said.

"Today shows we are facing a terrible war never seen before on the (U.S.-Mexico) border," Baja California Attorney General Rommel Moreno told a news conference.

Some 190 people have been killed in Tijuana so far this year. In 2007, there were more than 2,500 drug killings across Mexico and there have been more than 900 this year.

Police cordoned off the surrounding roads, forcing workers at a nearby maquiladora to walk through the crime scene to get to work.

"Another shootout," said a woman who gave her name only as Lisa. "There are just too many. We are so afraid."