MORELIA, Mexico (AP) — Nine bodies, hands bound and shot, were found Saturday in a remote area of western Michoacan state where drug cartels, vigilantes and federal forces have been fighting much of this year, the state prosecutor's office said.
The bodies were left together on abandoned property near the town of Buenavista Tomatlan along with a sign indicating they may have been members of the Knights Templar cartel, prosecutor's spokesman Alejandro Arellano said.
The area near the Jalisco state border has suffered a wave of violence for most of this year, as self-defense groups have risen up to battle the Knights Templar, which controls the territory with killings and extortion. Authorities say some groups are supported by a rival cartel, Jalisco New Generation, also fighting the Knights Templar. The groups deny that.
The sign read: "For those who continue to support the Knights Templar, we are here, united," Arellano said. The note was signed with the initials of the New Generation, as well as the initials G.C., indicating a community-based, self-defense group.
The government of President Enrique Pena Nieto sent thousands of troops and federal police to the area in May to regain control of the state. While residents initially cheered the arrival and some self-defense groups agreed to put down their arms, the calm was short-lived. Even as the Pena Nieto government claims that killings across Mexico are down, it has struggled to come up with an effective strategy for Michoacan and neighboring Guerrero states, an area known as the Tierra Caliente, or Hot Land, for its climate.
The government response so far has mirrored that of Pena Nieto's predecessor, Felipe Calderon, who started his drug offensive as president by sending troops to Michoacan in 2006, and periodically thereafter, with little result.
The Knights Templar launched a coordinated attack on federal police last month, killing at least four officers and wounding at least five more. They also killed one of Mexico's highest-ranking navy officers and a bodyguard last month when they ventured onto a local road in Michoacan to get around highway roadblock. About the same time, residents in Guerrero were forced to flee their villages because of drug violence.