Army investigation finds drug traffickers killed 2 children in northern Mexico drug shootout

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Drug traffickers, not soldiers, killed two children during a shootout in northern Mexico earlier this month, Mexican military officials said Friday.

Army investigators reviewed the evidence and found 5-year-old Martin Almanza Salazar and his 8-year-old brother, Bryan, were killed by shrapnel from a grenade that hit the back of their family car April 3, the chief armed forces prosecutor, Jose Luis Chavez, said.

The type of grenade involved is never used by the military, he said.

Raymundo Ramos, head of the Human Rights Committee in Tamaulipas state, where the deaths occurred, dismissed the findings.

"We will show that the military prosecutors are lying," he said.

While drug cartel violence has become a daily occurrence in some parts of Mexico, the government says fewer than 5 percent of more than 22,700 people killed by drug violence since late 2006 involved innocent bystanders.

This year, however, civilians have been increasingly caught in the crossfire of Mexico's gang battles, drawing public outcry and demands for increased public security.

The Salazar boys were killed when their family's car drove into a gunbattle on a highway near the border city of Nuevo Laredo, the Tamaulipas state government said.

Relatives said the family dashed from the vehicle and hid in the bushes, but couldn't escape the violence. Five of the 11 family members riding in the vehicle were injured. Two suspected gunmen were also killed.