Nine US citizens, including children, killed in Mexico attack on Mormons

A burnt out car in Mexico, taken from mobile phone footageImage copyright

Image caption

Mobile-phone footage showed a burnt-out car at the scene of the attack

At least nine US citizens, three women and six children, have been killed in an attack by suspected drug cartel gunmen in northern Mexico.

The victims are members of the LeBaron family, linked to a breakaway Mormon community that settled in Mexico several decades ago.

The victims were travelling in a convoy of vehicles.

The security minister said the group could have been targeted accidentally as a result of mistaken identity.

Sinora state in northern Mexico is being fought over by two rival gangs, La Línea, which has links to the larger Juárez cartel, and “Los Chapos”, which is part of the Sinaloa cartel.

Family members who have spoken to the New York Times newspaper said two of the children killed were less than a year old.

In a tweet President Donald Trump described the victims as a group of “wonderful family and friends” who “got caught between two vicious drug cartels, who were shooting at each other”.

In a series of posts, he said that the US “stands ready” to offer support to combat the problem of cartel violence and “do the job quickly and effectively”.

Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Mexico would act with “independence and sovereignty” in pursuing the criminals behind the attack.

What do we know about attack?

As news of the attack spread, the death toll was at first unclear.

However, family members and Mexican officials have now confirmed that at least nine people were killed.

LeBaron family members were quoted as saying a group of three mothers and their 14 children had set off in a convoy of cars from Bavispe in Sonora state and were heading to La Mora in the neighbouring state of Chihuahua.

They were ambushed by gunmen in Bavispe.

A burnt-out SUV was later found by the side of the road with the remains of some victims and there were reports that other family members were shot at as they tried to flee.

Julian LeBaron, a cousin of the three women, also said seven other children managed to escape the attack.

The attack is thought to be have been carried out by a drug cartel which operates between the two states.

The governments of Chihuahua and Sonora issued a joint statement saying that an investigation had been launched and additional security forces had been sent to the area.

Claudia Pavlovich Arellano, governor of the state of Sonora, described the perpetrators on Twitter as “monsters”.

“As a mother, I feel anger, revulsion and a profound pain for the cowardly acts in the mountains between Sonora and Chihuahua,” she wrote, in Spanish.

Who are the victims?

Twins under the age of one were among the dead, the family said. The other child victims were aged 11, nine, six and four.

The victims are members of a community called Colonia LeBaron which was founded by a breakaway Mormon group in the first half of the 20th Century after the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the US starting cracking down on polygamy.

The mainstream Mormon Church publicly rejected polygamy – the custom of having more than one spouse at the same time – in 1890 and since then, some groups who wished to continue the practice have broken away.

The Colonia LeBaron community now includes both Mormons and Catholics who have settled there. Members are known for standing up to local drug gangs and speaking out about the high levels of cartel violence.

Possible international repercussions

By Will Grant, BBC News, Mexico

Even by the standards of Mexico’s drug war this was a particularly horrific attack.

A video reportedly filmed and posted online by a distraught family member shows a completely burnt-out car on a hillside, said to be on the road to La Mora.

The violent ambush is likely to have international repercussions too, as many of those killed were US citizens.

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has said he is employing a policy of non-violence and non-confrontation with the powerful cartels, but his critics accuse him of lacking any kind of coherent security strategy.

Pressure is growing on the government after an embarrassing episode last month when the police in Sinaloa released the son of the jailed drug lord, El Chapo Guzmán, after they were outgunned by his men.

While local media say the convoy of cars may have been mistaken for that of a rival gang, the LeBaron community has been targeted by the cartels in the past. In 2009, Erick LeBaron was kidnapped for ransom. The community took a stand and said it would not pay for his release as that would just encourage future kidnappings.

Erick LeBaron was eventually released without a ransom being paid. But months later, his brother Benjamin, who had led the campaign for Erick’s LeBaron’s release, was beaten to death. Benjamin’s brother-in-law was also killed.

In 2010, Julian LeBaron published an article in the Dallas Morning News calling for Mexicans to stand up against organised crime.

Mr LeBaron also told Mexican radio on Tuesday that his family had received threats. “We reported the threats, and these are the consequences,” he said.

Last year, the family also clashed with local farmers who accused the LeBarons of using excessive amounts of water to grow walnut trees on their land, allegedly leaving nearby farms dry.

The Colonia LeBaron community has in the past demanded to be allowed to create its own security force.

The power and influence of the Sinaloa cartel was on display last month when its members barricaded streets and clashed with security forces in Culiacán after one of their leaders, Ovidio Guzmán López, was arrested.

With the security forces outnumbered and surrounded, the Mexican government took the controversial decision to free Ovidio Guzmán to prevent further bloodshed.

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Media captionWatch clashes between Mexico’s security forces and drug cartel members

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