MEXICO CITY – Gunmen mowed down the family of a Mexican marine just hours after the military honored him as a national hero for losing his life during a raid that took down powerful drug kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva.
The brazen attack happened shortly before midnight Monday at the home of fallen marine Melquisedet Angulo in the town of Paraiso in the Gulf coast state of Tabasco, police said.
Hit men linked to Beltran Leyva's cartel have a strong presence in the state and are believed to be behind the slayings of Angulo's mother, his two siblings and his aunt, federal officials said Tuesday. Another unidentified woman was being treated at a hospital for unspecified wounds.
President Felipe Calderon called the attack "a cowardly act" and vowed to press forward with his nationwide drug fight involving more than 45,000 troops.
"We will not be intimidated by criminals without scruples like those who committed this barbarity," he said Tuesday. "Those who act like this deserve the unanimous repudiation of society and they must pay for their crime."
Angulo and Beltran Leyva were both killed during a shootout last week between marines and the cartel at an apartment complex in the colonial city of Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City.
Federal officials had warned the power vacuum left by Beltran Leyva's death could unleash more violence.
Beltran Leyva was among the most-wanted drug lords in both Mexico and the United States and is the biggest trafficker taken down by the Calderon administration so far.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials said Beltran Leyva's cartel, of the same name, has been responsible for much of the bloodshed across Mexico, where more than 15,000 people have been killed by drug violence since Calderon launched his crackdown in 2006.
Angulo was the only marine killed in the Dec. 16 raid that sparked a nearly two-hour shootout with gunmen, who also launched grenades at troops trying to arrest them. Two other marines were injured in the grenade explosions.
More than 60 marines participated in the operation, which also left six of Beltran Leyva's gunmen dead.
Hours before she was gunned down, Angulo's mother had attended her son's memorial service in Mexico City, where she had received the Mexican flag covering his coffin and had been promised money from the military.
Angulo is survived by two children, ages 3 and 16 months. The military has said it would provide them with scholarships.