Culiacan: Gunmen ambushed a military convoy in northwestern Mexico on Friday, killing four soldiers and stealing an ambulance that was carrying a wounded criminal, authorities said.
Nine other people, including a rescue worker, were wounded in the pre-dawn attack in Culiacan, capital of the state of Sinaloa, the bastion of the drug cartel led by imprisoned kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
The soldiers were escorting the ambulance after the suspect was hurt in an initial shootout in the municipality of Badiraguato, a mountainous region where Guzman was born. The gunmen had waited in several vehicles in the northern part of Culiacan before launching their attack, said Sinaloa state government secretary general Gerardo Vargas Landeros.
“We are concerned. This was an act of cowardice,” Vargas Landeros told reporters before an emergency security meeting.
“The soldiers were taking a wounded person who had participated in a clash with the army and they rescued him, taking him and the ambulance.”
A military humvee burned in the attack, while hundreds of high-caliber bullet shells used for assault rifles littered the street.
Some of the wounded were taken to hospitals in another city while the rest were hospitalized in Culiacan under protection of soldiers.
The official did not say whether Guzman’s Sinaloa drug cartel or another gang was responsible for the ambush. Sinaloa is one of Mexico’s most violent states and the ambush came as murders are on the rise this year across the country.
More than 14,500 people were murdered between January and August nationwide, compared to 12,339 over the same period last year, according to government figures. Guzman is hailed as a Robin Hood-type figure in his stronghold and his cartel is still considered a fearsome force despite his capture.
The cartel leader was arrested in the Sinaloa coastal city of Los Mochis in January, six months after he escaped from prison near Mexico City by sneaking through a 1.5-kilometer (one-mile) tunnel that opened into his cell’s shower.
Guzman now waits for a Mexican judge to decide whether he can be extradited to the United States, a ruling that he could appeal, although US officials believe he could be in US territory before the end of the year.
His capture dealt a blow to his cartel, but the gang still has a strong leader, his longtime associate, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who has never spent a day in prison. Guzman’s sons are also accused by the authorities of having roles in the criminal group. But in a sign of the cartel’s vulnerability, one of them, Jesus Alfredo Guzman Salazar, 29, was kidnapped in a restaurant in the Pacific resort of Puerto Vallarta in August, apparently by members of the rival Jalisco New Generation drug cartel.
Two US government officials, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, have said that the son was released days later and the reasons for the abduction are unclear.
One of the US officials said the kidnapping appeared to be a “non-sanctioned event” committed by lower ranking members of the New Generation cartel, and that their bosses ordered them to release Guzman’s son.