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Picturesque Guadalajara at center of cartel territory fight

| Friday, Nov. 25, 2011

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — The bound and gagged bodies of 26 men were found dumped before dawn on Thursday in the heart of the picturesque city of Guadalajara, a sign that full-scale war between drug cartels may have come to the metropolis that hosted last month's Pan American Games.

Law-enforcement officials said the men were found, shot execution-style, in two vans and a pickup truck abandoned near the Milennium Arches, one of the most recognizable landmarks in Mexico's second-largest city.

Best known as the home of mariachi music and tequila, Guadalajara also sits on the main highway running through western Mexico from the methamphetamine-producing state of Michoacan north toward the Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa. In recent months, security officials and analysts have worried that the city could become a target for the Zetas drug cartel, which has been using paramilitary-style tactics and headline-grabbing atrocities in a national push to grab territory from older organized crime groups.

"These acts of barbarism show how the war between cartels, and crime, is getting more brutal," Guadalajara's mayor, Jorge Aristoteles Sandoval, told reporters.

A message was found with the bodies in one of the vehicles, said Luis Carlos Najera, public security secretary for the state of Jalisco. He provided no details, but Mexican cartels frequently leave threatening messages with the bodies of their victims as a way of sowing fear and taking credit for their actions.

"It's sad to see what's going on," taxi driver Jesus Amado said. "We used to be looking at the problem from afar. Now we're not, we've got it right here."

Officials initially reported that there were 23 bodies found. Ulises Enrique Camacho, a spokesman for the attorney-general's office, said Thursday afternoon that the toll had risen to 26.

The bodies were found about a mile from the Expo Guadalajara events center, the site of both Pan Am Games events and the Guadalajara International Book Fair, which opens Saturday and describes itself as the world's most important Spanish-language book fair. The fair's website said it was expecting more than 600,000 visitors from around the world.

Killing slowed to a trickle during the Oct. 15-30 Pan American Games, which brought a massive influx of police and soldiers. Law-enforcement officials and analysts said they were nonetheless concerned that a Zetas onslaught could be imminent.

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