MORELIA, Mexico (AP) — Four gunmen were killed by Mexican police in a shootout that led to the release of five kidnapping victims in the western state of Michoacan, authorities said Wednesday.
The suspected criminals had abducted the two women and three minors earlier this month using a fake police car and fake federal police uniforms, federal police said in a statement. Authorities said the men killed had ties to the Knights Templar, an offshoot cartel of pseudo-religious La Familia organization.
Also in Michoacan, federal officials are investigating the origin of flyers purportedly passed out by the Knights Templar alerting residents of possible attacks by another cartel during Mexico's Independence Day celebration on Thursday.
Federal prosecutors are looking into the distribution of the flyers in the city of Apatzingan. A state and a federal official spoke to The Associated Press about the content of the flyers and the investigation on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
The flyers recommended that families not to be in places that could be targeted during holiday events and referred to a grenade attack that killed eight people and injured dozens in Morelia's main square on Sept. 15, 2008. The pamphlets claimed the Zetas drug cartel is behind the threats.
"We can all protect this town and the townsfolk from people who are only looking to hurt us," the flyers read.
Mexico's Interior Department said authorities across the country were prepared to ensure the safety of people during celebrations that take place in the evening of Sept. 15 and past midnight.
The battles among drug gangs and Mexico's offensive against them has killed more than 35,000 people since December 2006, according an official tally. Other groups put the death toll at 40,000.
One of the worst attacks in the drug war was an arson that killed 52 people in a casino of the northern city of Monterrey.
Jorge Domene, security spokesman for Nuevo Leon state, said police are investigating a triple homicide of who they believe are the parents and a brother of a state police who has been arrested as a lookout suspect.
Police said they are investigating whether the Zetas drug cartel, blamed for the incendiary attack, retaliated against the state cop after prosecutors released on Wednesday more information on fugitives still sought in the case.
Associated Press writer Porfirio Diaz contributed to this report in Monterrey, Mexico.