Armed men in southwest Mexico’s Michoacan state have killed one of the country’s top-ranking naval officers — believed to be the most senior official to fall in years — in a blow to Mexico’s most trusted crime fighting force.
The heavily armed group opened fire on a vehicle carrying Vice Admiral Carlos Miguel Salazar Ramonet — the top Navy commander in neighboring Jalisco state — on July 28 after the vehicle had been diverted to a dirt road off the main highway, reported The Associated Press. Another officer was killed and Salazar’s wife and a bodyguard were injured, reported Excelsior.
Three suspects were arrested in connection with the attack, which happened between the towns of La Noria and Las Cruces near the border with Jalisco and Guanajuato states, reported Vanguardia. Authorities have not released any information about the identity of the suspects, who are in the custody of the Specialized Deputy Attorney General’s Office in Investigation and Organized Crime (SEIDO).
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While Mexican police have little popular support and Michoacan police have been accused by civilians of ties to organized crime, the Mexican Navy is considered the country’s most successful crime-fighting force, and enjoys a close relationship with the United States. Despite this, few Navy officers have been targeted by criminals, according to the AP, and attacks such as the one targeting Salazar remain a rarity.
It is also unusual for criminal groups to target top level members of the security forces, and Salazar could even be the highest-ranking Mexican official to be killed since former President Felipe Calderon began an offensive against the drug cartels in 2006, said the agency.
Current President Enrique Peña Nieto has announced his intention to scale back the former administration’s strategy of targeting “kingpins” in captures typically led by the Navy, and use of the marines in tackling organized crime has dropped substantially on his watch. However, marines brought down the Zetas top leader Miguel Angel Treviño, alias Z40, earlier this month and remain the go-to force for high-level operations.
The site of the assassination, Michoacan state, has been hit by a wave of violence in recent weeks, resulting in the deaths of several federal police officers, who were also killed in ambushes.