MEXICO CITY -- Mexican security forces on Sunday killed seven more members of a presumed cartel assault force that rolled into a town near the Texas border and staged an hourlong attack, officials said, bringing the death toll to at least 20.
The Coahuila state government said in a statement that lawmen aided by helicopters were still chasing remnants of the force that arrived in a convoy of pickups and attacked the city hall of Villa Union on Saturday.
Gov. Miguel Angel Riquelme said late Sunday afternoon that authorities had determined the casualty count from the gunbattles stood at 14 gunmen dead and four police officers killed. He said two civilians also were slain by gunmen after being abducted.
The governor said six more officers were wounded as were four young people who had been taken by the attackers.
Francisco Contreras, an official in the state security agency, said later that the two slain civilians were a firefighter and an engineer who worked for the municipality. He said a second firefighter was missing.
The reason for the military-style attack remained unclear Sunday. Cartels have been contending for control of smuggling routes in northern Mexico, but there was no immediate evidence that a rival cartel had been targeted in Villa Union.
Earlier Sunday, the state government had issued a statement saying seven attackers were killed Sunday in addition to seven who died Saturday. It had said three other bodies had not been identified, but its later statement lowered the total deaths to 20.Gallery: Battle in Villa Union, Mexico
The governor said the armed group -- at least some in military-style garb -- stormed the town of 3,000 residents in a convoy of trucks, attacking local government offices and prompting state and federal forces to intervene. Bullet-riddled trucks left abandoned in the streets were marked C.D.N. -- Spanish initials of the Cartel of the Northeast gang.
Several of the gunmen stole vehicles as they fled and kidnapped locals to help guide them on dirt tracks out of town, the governor said. At least one of the stolen vehicles was a hearse headed for a funeral, according to the newspaper Zocalo of Saltillo.
The town is about 35 miles south-southwest of Eagle Pass, Texas, and 12 miles from the town of Allende -- site of a 2011 massacre involving the Zetas cartel in which officials say 70 died.
The governor said security forces would remain in the town for several days to restore a sense of calm.
Mexico's murder rate has increased to historically high levels, inching up by 2% in the first 10 months of the presidency of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Federal officials said recently that there have been 29,414 homicides so far in 2019, compared with 28,869 in the same period of 2018.
The November slaughter by Mexican drug cartel gunmen of three women who held U.S. citizenship and six of their children focused world attention on the rising violence.
Mexican authorities on Sunday arrested several people suspected of involvement in those killings.
The federal attorney general's office said in a communique that soldiers, marines, national guard and other security forces launched a joint operation early Sunday and detained "various individuals believed to be involved" in the killings outside the town of La Mora in the northern state of Sonora.
Officials didn't provide details, and the attorney general's office didn't respond to a request for comment. The newspaper El Universal cited sources as saying three people were arrested in Bavispe, not far from La Mora.
In October, an operation by the Sinaloa cartel prompted the federal government to release the captured son of a drug lord and pull back the army, which found itself outmaneuvered on the streets of Culiacan.
U.S. President Donald Trump said in a radio interview last week that he plans to designate Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations, though he declined to say what actions might follow that designation.
Mexican officials have opposed such a designation, worried it could lead to unilateral U.S. interventions in its territory.
Information for this article was contributed by Mary Beth Sheridan of The Washington Post.
A Section on 12/02/2019
Print Headline: Toll rises in fight near U.S. border