Shootout with federal troops leaves one dead

Kidnapping suspect killed, source says

By Sandra Dibble
March 4, 2008
TIJUANA – A gunbattle between federal troops and members of a suspected kidnapping ring sent residents of a well-to-do neighborhood diving for cover late Sunday and early yesterday for about seven hours.

One person died inside a house, where soldiers found an arsenal that included rifles, shotguns, handguns, ammunition, bullet-resistant vests, ski masks and uniforms with the insignia of various Mexican police agencies. They also found a blue jacket labeled “ICE,” the acronym for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The shooting started when the suspects, barricaded inside the house, began shooting at soldiers patrolling the area, army Col. Sergio López said in a statement last night.

The confrontation was the second extended shootout this year in a residential neighborhood in Tijuana. Soldiers and federal, state and municipal police engaged in a three-hour gunbattle Jan. 17 with men inside a house in the La Mesa district.

The region has suffered a spike in violence in recent weeks, as municipal, state and federal officials have joined to fight organized crime, and the Mexican military has been taking an increasingly visible role.

The latest shootout shattered the calm of the hillside neighborhood in eastern Tijuana known as Villa Floresta. Residents on the street Calle Jicama said the shooting began about 10 p.m. and ended before daybreak. Hours later, their block was so quiet that birds could be heard chirping as residents recalled huddling inside their houses, behind locked gates, waiting for the bullets to stop flying.

“They'd be shooting for an hour, then stop for half an hour,” said a 15-year-old high school student who took refuge in the back of his house with his mother and 16-year-old sister. “I was trying to calm down my mother, who was crying.”

The shootout caused the cancellation of classes yesterday at a private school about a block away. The street remained under military guard yesterday, but most residents were reluctant to talk and didn't want to give their names.

Two men were taken into custody, according to a statement read last night at a military base near downtown Tijuana. López said he could not verify whether the dead man or the detainees were suspects or victims.

A federal source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak, said the dead man and one detainee were members of a kidnapping ring, and the other man was a kidnap victim being held inside the residence.

The incident was across the street from another house where law enforcement agents rescued a kidnap victim Friday. López would not say whether the incidents were linked.