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Gunmen in Mexico ambushed three vehicles carrying three American women and 14 of their children in a remote part of Sonora state on Nov. 4, killing the women and six children, El Heraldo de Chihuahua reported. The families are part of a breakaway group from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that settled in northern Mexico in the 1920s after being excommunicated for polygamy. The victims, who have dual citizenship, lived in a settlement outside the Chihuahuan town of Galeana and were traveling to a wedding at another settlement in Bavispe, Sonora. The families were passing through the area of La Mora, which is in eastern Sonora and western Chihuahua, when their vehicles came under heavy fire from cartel gunmen.
The criminal groups operating in the mountains of this region are firmly entrenched and have access to extensive resources, and it will take a significant counterinsurgency effort to root them out.
Heavy fighting between forces loyal to the Sinaloa cartel (Gente Nueva) and remnants of the Juarez cartel (La Linea) has racked that region. Because of this fighting, the ambush could have been a case of mistaken identity. However, the religious group has also had conflict with criminal groups in the region before. In July 2009, cartel gunmen abducted family member Benjamin LeBaron from his home in Galeana and executed him. LeBaron had founded a crime-fighting group known as SOS-Chihuahua after the kidnapping of his brother and had vocally denounced criminal activity in the region. Community leader Julian LeBaron told Reuters reporters that they had recently received threats and had reported them to the authorities. It is unclear whether those threats were linked to the attack.
Whether this ambush was an intentional attack or a case of mistaken identity, the involvement of dual-nationality Americans has brought a great deal of media attention to the incident, and this will undoubtedly result in additional pressure on Mexican authorities from the U.S. government. The criminal groups operating in the mountains of this region are firmly entrenched, however, and have access to extensive resources. It will take a significant counterinsurgency effort to root them out.