Mexico City • Mexican authorities Sunday detained several suspects implicated in the massacre of nine members of a Mormon sect in northern Mexico in early November, according to the office of the nation’s attorney general.
The detentions came during a joint operation by members of the Mexican armed forces and intelligence agents and followed the detention last month of another suspect living in Mexico City, the attorney general’s office said in a statement, providing no further information about the suspects’ identities, their connection to the murders or the circumstances of their arrests.
In his first year in office, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has struggled to articulate a coherent crime-fighting strategy, and to curb spiraling violence and the immense power of organized crime groups. The failure was highlighted by this harrowing incident, which rose above the usual drumbeat of news about bloodshed in Mexico, in part because the victims were women and children and dual American and Mexican citizens.
López Obrador took office last year vowing to remove the military from the streets in the fight against drug trafficking organizations and end his predecessors’ war on drugs. Instead, he promised, he would address the roots of crime by tackling poverty through social development programs and investment — a strategy he refers to as “hugs, not bullets.”
On Sunday, speaking at Mexico City’s central square during a celebration of his anniversary in office, López Obrador defended his approach.
“The federal executive has undertaken a paradigm shift in security,” he declared.
Highlighting the challenges he faces, at least 21 people were killed during clashes over the weekend between Mexican police and gunmen in a town in the northern Mexican state of Coahuila. The dead included four police officers, officials said.
On Sunday, demonstrators marched through central Mexico City demanding better security and justice for Mexicans. Members of the Mormon family torn apart by the massacre last month participated in the event, local media reported.
“We have to work together to find a way to stop the violence,” said Julián LeBarón, a relative of the victims, according to The Associated Press. “If we’re not capable of defending life in our country, we will never be a civilized country much less a free country.”
The López Obrador administration is desperate to show gains in its investigation into the killing of the Mormons — three women and six of their children who were members of a fundamentalist Mormon community that took root decades ago in northern Mexico.
The group, traveling in three cars, were ambushed on Nov. 4 as they drove through the state of Sonora. In the days after the attack, authorities floated the idea that the attack could have been a case of mistaken identity and said they were exploring the possibility that it was related to a conflict between two criminal groups fighting for control of that region of the country.
After the massacre, President Donald Trump declared on Twitter that it was time “for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth.”
Last week, Trump said he planned to designate Mexican drug trafficking groups as terrorist organizations, suggesting that he was motivated in part by the number of American deaths attributable to their activities. Some members of the Mormon communities of northern Mexico have also pressed for the designation.
Mexican officials — and, broadly, the Mexican people — have bristled at the announcement, with many worrying that it would somehow open the door to American military incursions into Mexico.
López Obrador addressed this concern at his anniversary celebration Sunday, saying: “We won’t accept any kind of intervention. We’re a free and sovereign country.”