MEXICO CITY – Suspected drug traffickers detonated hand grenades in a square packed with Independence Day celebrators in President Felipe Calderon’s hometown of Morelia, killing seven and injuring 105 in what officials said Tuesday was an act of terrorism.
One grenade exploded about 200 yards from where Gov. Leonel Godoy was ringing a bell as part of the “cry of independence” about 11 p.m. Monday as hundreds in the capital of Michoacan state blew horns and waved flags in the central plaza.
A second grenade went off on another side of the plaza and a third one exploded nearby on a side street, police said.
Gruesome images from the scene showed the colonial square stained with blood and rescue workers rushing children to ambulances. News reports said most injuries appeared to come from shrapnel hitting people in the legs.
Analysts warned that drug cartels and kidnappers are targeting the civilian population, something that has rarely happened in the past and never on the scale of Monday’s attack.
Mexico’s military moved into Morelia on Tuesday, and Godoy, in a TV interview, called the explosions “a terrorist act” most likely carried out by organized crime groups that operate in the state.
Godoy said threats had been made of possible holiday attacks, but not in Morelia.
“We are really shocked, worried because those who were killed and injured were regular people in Morelia like those throughout the country who are used to going to these public celebrations. They are the poorest people who don’t have other diversions,” he said.
Commentator Ricardo Aleman said Tuesday that organized crime groups involved in drug trafficking, kidnapping and other crimes may be stepping up their tactics as the government attempts a crackdown.
“This is the most serious attack yet against the civilian population,” he said. “I think this is part of a deliberate strategy to weaken people’s confidence in government institutions.”
Aleman also said the attack in Calderon’s hometown was symbolically important to send a message that the heavily armed and well-funded criminal groups fear no one.