Drug Violence Leaves 13 Dead in Mexico Ahead of Pope's Visit

Category: World / Mar 23, 2012 5:57PM EDT

On the eve of Pope Benedict XVI's first visit to Mexico, a day of brutal drug violence in the country left at least 13 people dead within 24 hours, with some of the victims found decapitated.

In the western state of Sinaloa, seven men were killed early Friday (March 23) morning in the Angostura municipality. The victims were shot dead on a highway at a location known locally as a spot to buy contraband gasoline from criminal gangs.

According to preliminary police investigations, an armed gang killed the men working at the scene. Amongst those killed was a local truck driver who was thought to be buying fuel at the time.

Mexican cartels have expanded into fuel theft as a way to supplement revenue. Dozens of bullet shells found at the crime scene in Sinaloa state indicated that the attackers were armed with heavy AK47 assault rifles.

Further south, there was more bloodshed in the beach town of Acapulco with the gruesome discovery of four heads in the back of an abandoned car on Thursday (March 22) night.

A warning message to rivals gangs was found near the heads, leading authorities to believe the grisly murders are drug-related.

Also in the crime-ravaged tourist hotspot, the body of a minor and a taxi driver were found with various gunshots to their heads in two separate incidents.

Rival cartels in the city are fighting for lucrative trafficking routes in the Pacific region. Earlier this month, ten severed heads were found nearby with a message threatening a rival cartel.

Drug violence has killed more than 50,000 people since President Felipe Calderon launched an army-led crackdown on drug cartels and organized crime after taking office five years ago.

As he headed to Mexico, the Pope said that everything possible must be done to combat the evils of drugs.

But in an election year, the government is struggling to show Mexican voters that its hard-line drugs strategy is working.