MEXICO CITY – Seven people died Monday in a shootout between rival groups of gunmen in Magdalena, a city in the Mexican border state of Sonora, state police said.
The seven victims have not been identified.
Police seized six AK-47 assault rifles, a shotgun and seven vehicles damaged in the shootout.
The gunfight occurred early Monday at the intersection of Niños Heroes and Jose Maria Durazo streets in downtown Magdalena, state police said.
The bodies were taken to the coroner’s office after investigators completed their work at the crime scene.
Sonora is a battleground between the Sinaloa drug cartel, which has controlled the state since the 1980s, and the Gulf cartel, which is trying to grab smuggling routes into the United States, Mexican media reported.
Earlier in the day, officials said the death toll from the attack over the weekend on people attending a birthday party in Ciudad Juarez, located across the border from El Paso, Texas, had risen to 15.
About 15 gunmen arrived early Sunday at a house where about 60 people, most of them students from different schools, were celebrating a birthday, separated the females from the group and opened fire on the males, killing 13 of them.
Two other victims died from their wounds in the past few hours, Chihuahua state Attorney General Patricia Gonzalez said.
The gunmen used pistols and rifles of different calibers in the attack, the AG said.
About 13 people are still being treated at several hospitals in Ciudad Juarez, considered Mexico’s most dangerous city and the scene of frequent shootouts between rival drug traffickers.
“From the first few minutes that we learned of this incident, an investigation has been underway, focusing on the crime scene, evidence and important testimony,” Gonzalez said.
The federal, state and local governments are offering a total reward of 1 million pesos (about $76,000) for information leading to the arrest of those involved in the massacre, Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes said.
Authorities will not stop working on the case until those who carried out “these revolting acts that saddened the people” are caught and punished, Reyes said.
This is the worst shooting so far this year in Juarez, which has been plagued by drug-related violence for several years.
The murder rate took off in the border city of 1.5 million people in 2007, when more than 800 people were killed, then it more than doubled to 1,623 in 2008, according to press tallies, with the number of killings soaring to 2,635 last year.
Ciudad Juarez, with 191 homicides per 100,000 residents, was the most violent city in the world in 2009, registering a higher murder rate than San Pedro Sula, San Salvador, Caracas, and Guatemala, two Mexican non-governmental organizations said earlier this month.
A total of 227 drug-related killings were registered in the border city last month, a figure that was up 66 percent from the 126 murders reported in January 2009.
Six police officers and 16 women were among those killed last month in the border city.
Last Friday, 12 people were murdered in Juarez, and 10 m
en were gunned down a day later in separate incidents. A total of 21 people were murdered on Sunday.
The killings have continued despite the recent restructuring of the joint army-police operation targeting drug traffickers in Chihuahua state.
The violence over the weekend was not limited to Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua state.
Ten people were gunned down at a bar in Torreon, a city in the northern state of Coahuila.
Mexico has been plagued in recent years by drug-related violence blamed on powerful cartels.
Last year, according to the El Universal newspaper, was the deadliest in Mexico in the past decade, with 7,724 people killed in violent incidents attributed to organized crime groups.
So far this year, according to the daily, drug-related violence has claimed the lives of nearly 800 people.
Mexico’s most powerful drug trafficking organizations, according to experts, are the Sinaloa, Tijuana, Gulf, Juarez and Beltran Leyva cartels, and La Familia Michoacana.
President Felipe Calderon, who took office in December 2006, has deployed 50,000 soldiers and 20,000 federal police nationwide to combat drug cartels and other criminal organizations. EFE