MEXICO CITY, Mexico — This week's ambush murder of a Mexican navy admiral by alleged gang members in the violent Pacific coast state of Michoacan wasn't a premeditated attack, the state's acting governor said Wednesday.
Vice Adm. Carlos Salazar and a bodyguard were shot dead Sunday when gunmen attacked their official navy car, which had been diverted by a protest blockade on a major toll road on to a secondary road in Michoacan.
Federal police quickly arrested three men they say carried out the attack, whom they identify as low-level members of the Knights Templar criminal band.
"To me it's clear that the attack wasn't against the navy, that it wasn't an attack on the vice admiral," Gov. Jesus Reyna told a radio interviewer Wednesday morning. "It's a lamentable, deplorable but really circumstantial event."
An intelligence expert, Salazar was commander of the naval region headquartered in Puerto Vallarta that encompasses a long stretch of the Pacific coast, including the ports of Lazaro Cardenas and Manzanillo.
Analysts say the Knights Templar control Lazaro Cardenas, through which precursor chemicals for methamphetamine are smuggled in from Asia. Michoacan is a major source of Templar-produced meth smuggled into the United States.
President Enrique Peña Nieto ordered more than 6,000 troops and federal police into Michoacan two months ago after a handful of towns formed militias to fight the Knights Templar. After quieting, violence has spiked again in recent weeks as the Knights have attacked both federal police and the volunteer militiamen.
Amid that turmoil the admiral's murder — he's the highest-ranking security official to be killed in Mexico's seven-year campaign against criminal syndicates — has struck a chord, forcing senior Mexican officials to assure the public that there is a strategy in place that will eventually work.
"It's not about performing miracles," Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo said in an interview on the Radio Formula network. "In all honesty, I think no strategy is going to give us results in a week or in three days. A strategy must be sustained."
Mexico's criminal hyper-violence traces back to Michoacan. That’s where Peña Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderon, dispatched army troops against the gangs upon taking office in December 2006.
The offensive brought temporary peace and splintered the then-dominant cartel, La Familia Michoacana. But gangsters, especially La Familia offshoot the Knights Templar, have never ceased wielding control over large portions of the state.
"Today I reiterate the government’s firm commitment to ensuring the rule of law throughout the country, to build the peaceful Mexico that all Mexicans want," Peña Nieto said Monday in honoring Salazar. "Security and tranquility must prevail for the population in every corner of the national territory."