In the latest convulsion of violence in the embattled Michoacan state, two Mexican national police, and 20 civilians have been killed in ambushes targeting police, adding an apparently planned and coordinated element to the fighting that has accelerated in recent days.
On July 23, six separate attacks on police left 15 officers injured as well as the two dead. According to El Universal quoting Mexico's Interior Ministry (SEGOB), the 20 dead civilians were part of the attacking forces, but there has been no independent confirmation of this.
The attacks were "planned in advance," according to the ministry, and carried out with heavy weapons by assailants hidden in the hills.
The ministry also reported that four roadblocks were set up, three on the Apatzingan-Cuatro Caminos highway, and one on the Lazaro Cardenas-Uruapan highway, and were later taken down by security forces. Reports did not indicate who was responsible for the ambushes or the roadblocks.
Following the attacks, national police and armed forces were dispatched to the region to search for those responsible. All public transport and businesses were shut down in various parts of the state, reported El Universal.
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The July 23 attacks form part of a wave of violence that has hit Michoacan in the past week, including the shooting of vigilante-led protesters that left five dead in Los Reyes municipality a day earlier, and two other police ambushes. Unlike the previous incidents, the latest series of attacks appears to be connected.
In the midst of a steadily deteriorating security situation, continued tensions between the police and both civilians and vigilante forces could be linked to the recent attacks. During the Los Reyes protest, 200 participants led by vigilantes accused police of corruption and ties to the Knights Templar criminal organization. Michoacan vigilantes have in past months taken both police and soldiers hostage. In one Michoacan town, vigilantes allegedly came close to executing local police in May.
SEE ALSO: Knights Templar Profile
Authorities, meanwhile, arrested a group of Michoacan vigilantes in March and accused them of being members of, or at least being backed by, the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG), the main rival of the Knights Templar in the region. In this context, it is unclear what the identities or motives of the vigilante groups -- which say they formed to fill a security void -- really are or if they are linked in any way to the recent violence.