Mexico probes narco group 'La Linea' in Mormon murders

Mexico City (AFP) –


Mexican authorities said Wednesday they believe a drug cartel called "La Linea" was responsible for the murder of nine Mormon women and children, saying the massacre was committed with American-made ammunition.

The three women and six children, who had dual US-Mexican citizenship, were killed in a hail of bullets Monday as they drove on a rural road between the states of Sonora and Chihuahua, which border the United States.

Eight other children managed to escape, six of them wounded -- a case that has caused shock on both sides of the border and prompted US President Donald Trump to call for a "war" on Mexican cartels.

The head of the Mexican military's joint chiefs of staff, Homero Mendoza, said authorities now believe the massacre was perpetrated by La Linea (The Line), a drug cartel based in Chihuahua.

He said investigations indicated the group had sent a squadron to the lawless mountain region where the attack occurred to fend off potential incursions by a rival gang, Los Salazar, which is based in Sonora.

"It's believed that in response to this threat... (La Linea) decided to send a cell to the area between (the villages of) Janos and Bavispe to detain any incursion or penetration by Los Salazar into Chihuahua, which is what we believe was responsible for this attack on the LeBaron family," he told a news conference.

But relatives have rejected a case of mistaken identity, saying they believe their family was deliberately targeted.

Speaking at the same news conference, Mexican Security Minister Alfonso Durazo said investigators found more than 200 .223 caliber bullet casings manufactured by American gunmaker Remington at the scene.

That type of rounds is commonly used in military-style assault rifles.

He said Mexico and the United States would soon launch a bilateral program "to control arms trafficking from the US to Mexico."

He added that 70 percent of the guns linked to crimes in Mexico come from the United States.

Information on the case remains murky.

Authorities had initially blamed a different criminal group active in the region, Los Jaguares, but had moved beyond that theory by Wednesday.

They had also said they were investigating whether a man was involved who was arrested in another part of Sonora with two bound and gagged hostages and an arsenal of firearms. However, Durazo ruled out a link between the two cases.

The attack has highlighted the lawlessness in much of the border region, the scene of frequent turf wars between cartels fighting over lucrative drug trafficking routes into the United States.

Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said Mexico "will share information" with the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the ongoing probe.