REYNOSA, Mexico – A car explodes outside a police station, another outside a television station. A gang is suspected of massacring 72 migrants. A prosecutor investigating those deaths suddenly disappears.

Mexico’s drug cartels seem to be adopting the tactics of war zones half a world away.

The violence appears to have contributed to a drop in the number of migrants crossing the border into the U.S., officials say, as they have to traverse some of Mexico’s most dangerous territory to get to Texas. Mexican officials, meanwhile, warned that there danger will likely increase in the coming months.

“Violence will persist and even intensify,” President Felipe Calderon said at a forum on security where he vowed he would not back down.

If authorities confirm the explosions were car bombs, it would mean a total of four such explosives have been used this year in Mexico — a new and frightening tactic that officials say the cartels are using in the escalating drug war.

No drug gangs claimed responsibility for Friday’s violence in the northern state of Tamaulipas.

A survivor of the massacre, however, said the killers identified themselves as Zetas, a group of former Mexican army special forces who are now a lethal drug gang that has taken to extorting migrants.

Kidnappings and attacks on government security patrols are rampant in the highways surrounding San Fernando, where the bodies of the 72 Central and South American migrants were discovered on a ranch Tuesday, bound, blindfolded and slumped against a wall.

Last month, the bodies of 15 people were dumped in the middle of the highway from San Fernando to Matamoros, a city across the border from Brownsville, Texas.

The violence extends from Matamoros along the Texas border to Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas.

The two car explosions happened less than 45 minutes apart in Ciudad Victoria, the Tamaulipas state capital, the Attorney General’s Office said. The first exploded in front of the offices of the Televisa network and the second in front of transit-police offices.

There were no injuries, though both caused some damage to buildings and knocked out the signal of the Televisa network for several hours.

The network described the explosion as a car bomb, but the state Attorney General’s Office said the causes of the explosions have not been determined.

Drug gangs have terrorized news organizations in northern Mexico, and journalists have been killed and newspaper offices attacked to quiet coverage.

In Tamaulipas, many newspapers and television stations have simply stopped reporting on the violence. The day after the massacre was discovered, local newspapers carried headlines about the new school year. Even the national Mexican papers have covered the story without bylines, as did the Brownsville Herald in Texas.

Investigators have identified 31 of the migrants, whose bodies were taken to Reynosa, a city across the border from McAllen, Texas. They include 14 Hondurans, 12 Salvadorans, four Guatemalans and one Brazilian.

Meanwhile, 14 bodies were found dumped in various locations around the Pacific Coast resort of Acapulco, while the U.S. State Department issued a new warning for Americans living or traveling in Mexico, particularly in border cities.

The State Department told U.S. diplomats in the northern industrial city of Monterrey to remove their children from the area after a deadly shootout last week in front of the American Foundation School, where many American students are enrolled.

The Mexican government, however, continued to stress in the security forum that the violence is limited to certain parts of the country.

Government security spokesman Alejandro Poire broke the wave of violence down to seven conflicts, and said 80 percent of more than 28,000 drug-related killings since late 2006 are confined to just 162 of nearly 2,500 Mexican cities.

Mexico’s “increasing insecurity” has contributed to a sharp drop in immigration over the past year, Immigration Commissioner Cecilia Romero said. But she stressed that the U.S. economic slump and tighter border security have done more to stem the flow.

Still, the Gulf Coast corridor where the migrants were intercepted is a popular route for people leaving desperate situations in their home countries.

The massacre’s lone survivor, Luis Freddy Lala Pomavilla, left a poor Ecuadorean village for the U.S. to try to support his 17-year-old wife, according to reports in the Ecuadorean press.

In a statement, Lala, 18, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the neck and is under heavy security protection, told investigators that the migrants were intercepted on a highway by five cars.

More than 10 gunmen jumped out and identified themselves as Zetas, Lala said. They tied up the migrants and took them to the ranch. There, the Zetas demanded that the migrants work for them. Only one agreed. The rest were blindfolded and ordered to lie down on the ground next to a wall. The gunmen then opened fire.

The fate of the migrant who agreed to work for the Zetas was unclear.

The father of one of the Guatemalan victims said he’d received calls in the days before the massacre from “people with Mexican accents” demanding $2,000 to free his relative, said Andrea Furlan, spokeswoman for Guatemala’s foreign ministry.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor, Roberto Jaime Suarez, disappeared Wednesday in San Fernando, where the bodies of the migrants were found, the state AG’s office said. A police officer in the town is also missing.

President Calderon said Suarez was involved in the initial investigation of the massacre. The federal Attorney General’s Office has since taken the lead in the case.

Mexican immigration agents have rescued 2,750 migrants this year, some stranded in deserts and others who were being held captive by organized crime gangs, Romero added. In Tamaulipas alone, agents rescued 812 migrants kidnapped by drug gangs, she said. Many of those migrants told authorities the cartels tried to force them into drug trafficking.


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