MEXICO CITY — Assailants on Tuesday gunned down the mother, aunt and siblings of a marine killed in a raid that took out one of Mexico's most powerful cartel leaders — sending a chilling message to troops battling the drug war: You go after us, we wipe out your families.
The brazen pre-dawn slayings came just hours after the navy honored Melquisedet Angulo as a national hero at a memorial service.
"The message is very clear: It's to intimidate not only the government but its flesh and blood," said Jorge Chabat, a Mexican expert on drug cartels. "It's to intimidate those in the armed forces so they fear not only for their own lives, but the lives of their families."
Federal officials had warned last week's killing of drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva, known as the "boss of bosses," could provoke a violent backlash from smugglers, who have gone after federal police in the past following the arrest of high-ranking cartel members.
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Beltran Leyva was among the most-wanted drug lords in Mexico and the United States, and was the biggest trafficker taken down by President Felipe Calderon's administration so far. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials blamed his cartel for much of the bloodshed across Mexico.
Even so, the country was shocked by the brutal slayings of Angulo's family at their home just hours after the fallen marine's mother, Irma Cordova, 55, attended his memorial service in Mexico City, where she received the Mexican flag covering his coffin.
His brother, Benito Angulo, 28, his sister, Jolidabey Angulo, 22, and aunt, Josefa Angulo, 46, also were killed shortly after midnight when gunmen wielding assault rifles broke down the door of their home. His sister, Miraldeyi Angulo, 24, was reported in serious condition at a hospital.
Hit men linked to Beltran Leyva's cartel have a strong presence in Tabasco, a Gulf state bordering Guatemala, and were suspected of being behind the attack. State and federal forces searching for the assailants set up roadblocks across the state Tuesday.