A commando attack outside a Guadalajara restaurant Monday targeted Jalisco’s former attorney general, Luis Carlos Najera, and left a toll of four members of the public and three police officers injured.
Najera, the current state Labor Secretary, received a gunshot graze to the hand but was otherwise unharmed.
Later in the afternoon, masked men, presumably members of the same drug cartel that carried out the assault, torched two buses and a private car in different parts of the metropolitan area, in an apparent diversionary tactic, as well as to provoke fear and confusion among the general public. A mother and her baby were badly burned as they tried to get out of one of the flaming buses. The infant died Tuesday morning while the mother remains in critical condition.
The assault occurred mid-afternoon outside Suntory, a Japanese restaurant situated at the corner of Avenida Chapultepec and Morelos, in one of Guadalajara’s most popular dining/drinking zones.
Police officers stationed in the area responded quickly to the attack, which happened just as Najera, along with his bodyguards, exited the eatery after finishing a working lunch with a union leader.
Although the assailants – numbering around 12 – managed to flee the scene, municipal police patrols cornered one group on Avenida Lopez Mateos on the Guadalajara-Zapopan border. Six men were detained after an exchange of gunfire, a police report said. One later died of a heart attack in hospital.
In a tactic used frequently previously by cartels, two buses and a car were then set on fire in different parts of the metropolitan area. This has become a standard measure during massive police operations as a means of diverting authorities’ attention and provoking panic among the public.
In the first reported incident, three masked men torched a bus at the intersection of the Periférico (city beltway) and Avenida Inglaterra in the San Juan de Ocotán neighborhood. Gang members then set ablaze a car at Bolivia and Isla Palos, in Colonia Jardines de la Cruz, in addition to another bus at the corner of Mariano Otero and Avenida Las Torres.
In the last incident, a mother and her eight-month-old baby became trapped inside the burning bus after the back door jammed. They eventualy escaped but with first-degree burns on 90 percent of their bodies. The baby died on Tuesday morning, the state government announced in a press release. Tweeted Governor Aristoteles Sandoval: "I can't describe the pain I am feeling; the rage at knowing that there are people who don't respect the lives of anyone, not even a small child."
According to police reports, seven others received attention for burns or minor injuries following the incidents.
In a press conference Monday afternoon, Sandoval and Najera explained the sequence of events and highlighted the actions of the Labor Secretary’s bodyguards. According to Sandoval, they took the precaution of parking the minister’s white Suburban directly outside the entrance of the restaurant after becoming suspicious of two men who had entered the eatery while the Labor secretary was finishing his meal. Their caution was warranted, as the commando opened fire exactly at the moment Najera came out of the front door. The Suburban acted as a shield, the governor explained, thus helping prevent “a masacre.”
Two young women selling candy outside the restaurant were shot in their legs, while a pedestrian was wounded in the hand. All three were released from hospital Tuesday.
In the immediate aftermath of the attack, Sandoval called for calm and stressed that his government was in control of the situation, urging citizens to ignore “alarmist” information posted on social media.
Speaking to a radio station Tuesday, Najera said he believed the attack was either instigated by the Nuevo Generacion Cartel (CJNG), or a rival group trying to show their muscle, and had the intention of “heating up the state” in the run up to the July 1 elections.
Najera, a 25-year police veteran who worked his way up the career ladder from a beat cop, served as state attorney general for almost three years before resigning in July 2015 amid growing criticism of his performance and the increasing influence of the violent CJNG.
Lacking the wily diplomatic skills of seasoned politicos, Najera nonetheless instilled public confidence in that he had no clear political affiliation, spoke in straightforward language and was viewed as incorruptible.
Enrique Alfaro, the former mayor of Guadalajara and Citizen’s Movement candidate for Jalisco governor, shared an uncomfortable relationship with Najera during his time in office and repeatedly demanded his destitution. Currently leading the gubernatorial race, according to polls, Alfaro has yet to comment on the incident.