MONTERREY, Mexico – An explosion at a plaza in northeastern Mexico injured 15 people, an attack authorities blamed Sunday on drug cartels targeting the civilian population to cause chaos.
Police believe the attackers threw a grenade Saturday night at the main square in the town of Guadalupe, but were still trying to confirm the type of explosive, said Adrian de la Garza, the director of the investigations agency of Nuevo Leon, where the town is located.
Six children, the youngest 3 years old, were among the injured, said Francisco Gonzalez, the state deputy health director. He said the injuries were not life-threatening, and most of the victims had returned home from the hospital.
It was the fourth such attack in two days in the area around the city of Monterrey, which has been reeling from a turf war between the Gulf and Zetas drug gangs.
On Friday night, three separate grenade attacks happened: near the federal courts, outside a prison and near the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey. A security guard was injured in the attack at the courts.
Nuevo Leon Attorney General Alejandro Garza y Garza said they may be revenge for recent operations against drug traffickers. He did not specify which ones, but 22 suspected drug gang members were killed in a Sept. 15 shootout with soldiers in Ciudad Mier, another town in Nuevo Leon. Last week, marines captured 30 suspected Gulf cartel members in Tamaulipas state, which borders Nuevo Leon.
"We believe this might have been an attack against the civilian population. They are trying to create chaos and anxiety in the population," Garza y Garza said.
Soldiers arrested eight suspected Zetas members in Guadalupe early Sunday, although the operation appeared unrelated to the attack on the plaza.
The soldiers were patrolling the town when they saw three cars brake suddenly and try to reverse and flee, according to the Defense Department statement. Soldiers arrested eight people and found 8 rifles and ammunition in the cars.
Although drug gangs frequently hurl grenades at police headquarters and government installations, they rarely target crowds of bystanders.
The last such major attack was two years ago, when assailants threw grenades at thousands of revelers during Independence Day celebrations in the western city of Morelia. Eight people were killed.
Still, civilians have been increasingly caught up in Mexico's bloody drug war, which has claimed more than 28,000 lives since President Felipe Calderon deployed thousands of troops and federal police to fight the cartels in December 2006.
In Acapulco, meanwhile, police continued to search Sunday for 20 men who were kidnapped while traveling together in the Pacific coast resort city.
Authorities were investigating whether the missing men had ties to drug gangs, said Fernando Monreal, director of the investigative police in Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located.
The kidnapping was reported to police Friday by a man who had been among the group but said he was at the store when his companions were abducted. He said the men, ages 17 to 47, were mechanics from Morelia, capital of Calderon's home state of Michoacan, and saved up each year to vacation together.
Police have since been unable to contact the man, and Monreal said he found his story suspicious.
"They were not tourists. It's very suspicious that 20 men go on vacation in Acapulco without their families," he told The Associated Press. "We are not ruling out the possibility that they had ties to organized crime."
Associated Press Writer Sergio Flores in Acapulco, Mexico, contributed to this report.