9 bodies discovered in southern Mexico

Mexican authorities said Saturday the bodies of nine victims of suspected drug violence have turned up in the western state of Michoacan.

The state prosecutor's office said in a statement that authorities found eight bodies in three different areas of the port city of Lazaro Cardenas. Three of the cadavers had been dumped in front of the state public security agency.

Another body was found in the state capital of Morelia.

Several of the still unidentified bodies were discovered with messages from a group calling itself the Knights Templar and claiming responsibility for the killings.

The violence is apparently due to a rupture in the La Familia crime organization after the gang's leader, Nazario Moreno, was killed in a shootout with police Dec. 9.

One of the messages, staked to a man's body with an ice pick, read: "This will happen to everyone who supports Chango Mendez."

Jesus Mendez, also known as "El Chango," or "The Monkey," is a suspected leader of the La Familia cartel.

Messages from the Knights Templar first began appearing in March, with the group claiming that it would replace La Familia. Messages left on bodies or hung in public areas are commonly used by drug gangs to threaten rivals, to deny responsibility for crimes or to send messages to authorities.

The name alludes to a Christian order of knights founded in 1118 in Jerusalem to protect pilgrims in the Holy Land after the First Crusade.

On Friday, unidentified criminals set fire to automobiles and buses to block a highway in Michoacan following a shootout with Mexican troops.