Bodies found beheaded in Mexico tourist city of Acapulco


ACAPULCO, Mexico (Reuters) – Fifteen bodies, all but one of them decapitated, were found early on Saturday in the Pacific resort city of Acapulco as drug violence in Mexico intensified.

The victims, all male, were discovered at dawn near a shopping mall along with threatening hand-written messages that are typically left as a calling card by drug cartels, authorities said.

At least a dozen more bodies were found at several scenes of violence around the city early on Saturday, local media reported in more examples of drug gang skirmishes.

The messages found near the headless bodies were signed by Mexico’s most wanted man, Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, the leader of the powerful Sinaloa cartel that is fighting rivals over the area, police added.

The half-naked bodies were mutilated and badly beaten, and machetes appeared to have been used, police said.

“This is a war that has been growing for months, not just in Guerrero but across the country,” local government spokesman Manuel Nava said of the state that includes Acapulco. “We are witnessing the breakup of these organized crime gangs,” he told Mexico’s Foro TV channel.

Acapulco is a bustling metropolis with beaches and a nightlife 250 miles from the Mexican capital.

The Sinaloa gang is waging a brutal war for control of the city, its port and routes toward the United States, fighting the weakened Beltran Leyva cartel and the South Pacific cartel, a breakaway faction of the Beltran Leyva gang.

The gangs are spreading fear in Acapulco, damaging the vital tourism industry, although business owners are desperate to assure visitors their city is safe for tourists.

A burned-out truck and four other destroyed vehicles were found near the bodies on Saturday. Four other murder victims were found in other parts of the city in separate incidents, including a police chief, local media reported.

Drug violence has killed more than 30,000 people since President Felipe Calderon launched his army-led crackdown on drug cartels in December 2006.

Despite capturing and killing a string of top gang leaders, the government is under pressure to contain the violence and show that Mexico, an oil exporter and major emerging market economy, is still a safe place in which to invest.

Federal officials will help investigate the Acapulco killings, Calderon’s office said in a statement Saturday afternoon that renewed his pledge to dismantle drug cartels.

“Condemnable acts of violence such has these underline the need to combat criminal gangs with all our force,” the statement said.

After a Christmas lull, violence has surged again across the country, with at least 10 attacks on police and a prison in the wealthy northern city of Monterrey.

In Coahuila state, also in northern Mexico, authorities confirmed the identity of a small-town mayor whose body was discovered on Friday afternoon. Saul Vara is believed to be the first municipal chief killed in 2011 after a year in which at least 13 mayors were killed by drug gangs.

(Reporting by Acapulco newsroom, Patrick Rucker and Luis Rojas Mena in Mexico City; Editing by Peter Cooney)