US adds 3 Mexican states to list of places Americans should avoid, including 2 tourist areas

MEXICO CITY (AP) — The U.S. State Department updated its travel warning for Mexico on Thursday by including three additional states on its list of places it recommends Americans avoid when south of the border.

The new warning adds the northern state of Tamaulipas, parts of the northern Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, and the western state of Michoacan, noting that all three are troubled by organized crime and drug violence.

The State Department previously had warned against traveling to the northern states of Chihuahua, Durango, and Coahuila, also crime and drug hot spots.

Some of the highlighted states are home to popular tourist areas, including forest-covered mountains in Michoacan where Monarch butterflies winter. The department said U.S. citizens "should exercise extreme caution when traveling in Michoacan, especially outside major tourist areas."

The statement also cited "recent incidents of serious narcotics-related violence in the vicinity of the Copper Canyon in Chihuahua," another popular tourist spot, and warned that areas of southern Guerrero state — where the resort of Acapulco is located — could also be dangerous.

At the same time, the warning noted that "millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year," and that the Mexican government "makes a considerable effort to protect U.S. citizens and other visitors to major tourist destinations."

"Resort areas and tourist destinations in Mexico do not see the levels of drug-related violence and crime reported in the border region and in areas along major drug trafficking routes," the document said.

In the areas that have been cited as dangerous, the warning noted that drug gangs have adopted new tactics, including "using stolen trucks to block major highways and thus prevent the military from responding to criminal activity," notably in the area around the northern city of Monterrey.

It added that on highways leading to the border through Coahuila, Durango and Sinaloa and the northern state of Nuevo Leon, "criminals appear to especially target SUVs and full-size pickup trucks for theft and car-jacking."

In Sinaloa on Wednesday night, gunmen ambushed two cars and killed five people, including a teenage girl, authorities said Thursday.

The attack in the town of Ahome also left two people wounded, said Martin Gastelum, a spokesman for the state attorney general's office.

Elsewhere, authorities in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco on Thursday announced the arrest of a man who allegedly participated in the December killings of a Mexican marine's family. The marine, Tabasco native Melquisedet Angulo, was killed during a raid that took down powerful drug kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva.

Gunmen killed Angulo's mother, two brothers and an aunt just hours after the military honored him as a national hero during a memorial service.

Tabasco state Attorney General Rafael Gonzalez said the suspect, identified as Jose Manuel Benitez Cordova or Luis Carvallo, is the leader of a group of gunmen working for the Zetas drug gang.

The suspect also participated in the killing of a police officer in February and was a lookout during the 2009 killings of a Tabasco state police officer and 10 members of his family, including five children, Gonzalez said.

Seven members of Benitez Cordova's group, which was allegedly involved in at least a dozen kidnappings and slayings, were also arrested, Gonzalez said.

Also Thursday, authorities said they seized 88 tons (80 metric tons) of a precursor chemical used to make methamphetamines at a Mexican Pacific coast seaport.

Officials said it was the country's largest single seizure of the chemical ethyl phenyl acetate. Known as phenylacetic acid, it can also be used in cocaine processing.

The federal Attorney General's Office said the chemical was found in five shipping containers sent from China to the port of Manzanillo.

Drug traffickers have turned to phenylacetic acid after Mexico effectively banned imports of another precursor, pseudoephedrine.