Police Commander, 3 Mexican Cartel Gunmen Killed During Kidnapping Rescue

Image: Myriam Navarro

Nine kidnapping victims were rescued but a state police commander and three cartel gunmen were killed during an operation in the Mexican coastal state of Nayarit last week.

Elements of the state investigative police in Nayarit launched a rescue operation on March 20, at approximately 8:45 pm local time after receiving a 911 call of kidnapping victims being held at a safe house in the Puerta de Sol immediately south of the of the state capital.

According to the state attorney general’s office, investigators were met by immediate gunfire when approaching a residence believed to be a safe house holding kidnapping victims. Police commander Exiquio Bernal Leyva was struck in the head and a second was also wounded, setting off a fierce gun battle between responding police elements and cartel gunmen holed up inside the residence with nine kidnapping victims. State police were able to kill three cartel gunmen and rescue the victims held inside, according to local news media.

Police Commander Bernal Leyva was moved to a local hospital where he died of his wounds. A second police officer was also transported and is expected to recover. Bernal Leyva was a well-known and respected commander and one of the founding members of the anti-kidnapping unit in Sinaloa, according to local law enforcement sources.

According to the state attorney general’s office, a female suspect was arrested inside the safe house and was believed to be working with the kidnappers. At the time of her arrest, she was in the company of her two-year-old who was handed over to the child state welfare agency. The state attorney general’s office reported that several of the kidnappers were able to flee prior to arrest.

Local media outlets reported that two hours after the kidnapping rescue operation, in Malinal, alleged cartel gunmen opened fire on citizens who gathered at a town plaza where a dance party was occurring. It was reported that two civilians were murdered and 12 sustained gunshot wounds.

As the epidemic of cartel-related violence spreads throughout Mexico, Nayarit was cited as having the most dramatic increase in murder in 2017 in comparison to 2016 at 542 percent, according to Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública (SESNSP).

In December of 2017, Breitbart Texas reported that cartel gunmen hung the bodies of three men from an overpass along with a narco-banner, which warned of future violence.

Robert Arce is a retired Phoenix Police detective with extensive experience working Mexican organized crime and street gangs. Arce has worked in the Balkans, Iraq, Haiti, and recently completed a three-year assignment in Monterrey, Mexico, working out of the Consulate for the United States Department of State, International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Program, where he was the Regional Program Manager for Northeast Mexico (Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Durango, San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas.)


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