<!--:es-->7 suspects, 1 policeman die in Mexico shootout<!--:-->

7 suspects, 1 policeman die in Mexico shootout

MEXICO CITY – A shootout that began in a shopping center and spilled onto a highway in northern Mexico caused the death of seven suspected drug cartel gunmen and one federal police officer while freeing two kidnap victims, police said.

Federal police acting on a report of a kidnapping went to a shopping mall in the city of Torreon Monday night and were met with gunfire, the Federal Public Safety Department said Tuesday.

Police and soldiers then chased the kidnappers onto a nearby highway, where the main shootout occurred. One suspect and three policemen were wounded, as were two kidnap victims.

Police said the shootout apparently involved members of the Zetas drug gang, a group of hit men allied with the Gulf cartel who have expanded from drug trafficking into kidnapping and extortion.

The Zetas have been involved in some of the most bloody confrontations in the drug war that has cost more than 15,000 lives in Mexico over the last three years.

Another violent cartel, the La Familia gang, strung up about a dozen banners in the western state of Michoacan on Monday urging the public at large and other gangs to form a common «resistance» front against the Zetas.

The banners in the state capital of Morelia and the city of Apatzingan were quickly removed by police.

In the border city of Ciudad Juarez, state police said they have detained a suspect in the killings of 16 people, many of them teenagers.

The suspect, who allegedly acted as a guard during the weekend massacre, was detained after a shootout with police Monday, the state prosecutor’s office said in a statement. Another suspect described as the leader of the attack, died in the same gunbattle with police.

The prosecutors’s office said the two men belong to «La Linea,» a gang of hit men tied to the Juarez cartel. The detained suspect claimed the weekend attack was aimed at a rival gang of hit men known as the «Assassin Artists,» the statement said.

Late Saturday, armed men in two trucks blocked off a dead end street in Villas de Salvarcar and then opened fire at three houses, ending their rampage at one home where young people had gathered for a party.

City authorities have said the victims of the attack had no known ties to drug gangs and the gunmen may have been acting on mistaken information. Tuesday’s statement did not provide any new information about the background of the victims.