The aftermath of an ambush of a military convoy in 2016 that left five soldiers dead in Culiacán, Sinaloa. Photo: Google


On the morning of Sept. 30, 2016, a military convoy was ambushed by members of the Sinaloa Cartel on the highway that connects the municipalities of Badiraguato and Culiacán in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa.

According to the version of the Mexican Army, three hours earlier, a military checkpoint tried to stop a truck in the town of Bacacoragua, but when the driver of the vehicle refused, soldiers opened fire.

Allegedly, armed individuals dressed as civilians also shot at the soldiers. After the gunfight, several members of the Sinaloa Cartel were injured, including Julio Óscar Ortiz Vega, alias “El Kevin.” Ortiz Vega was a close associate of Iván Archivaldo “El Chapito” Guzmán Salazar, son of notorious drug trafficker Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera and one of the leaders of “Los Chapitos,” a splinter group of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Ortiz Vega, who had been under the protection of the military, was transferred to Culiacán, in a Red Cross ambulance guarded by a convoy of military trucks and vans.

However, at approximately 3:25 p.m., just as the ambulance and the soldiers were arriving in Culiacán, they were ambushed on the highway by an armed group that later rescued Ortiz Vega. The aftermath of the ambush was five dead soldiers and 10 more wounded, as well as an injured paramedic.

That ambush was also a prelude to a series of murders and disappearances of several municipal police officers in Culiacán.

The first attack was on Juan Antonio Murillo Rojo, a police commander linked to Commander Jesús Antonio Aguilar Íñiguez, designated as protector and assassin of the Sinaloa Cartel.

Murillo Rojo survived the attack, but two of his escorts died. Subsequently, on Jan. 21, 2017, the remains of Israel Ruiz Félix, commander of the municipal police of Culiacán, was found in a shallow grave in Navolato, Sinaloa, apparently a victim of execution.

Two days later, José Antonio Saavedra Ortega, a Culiacan municipal police officer, disappeared. On Jan. 26, his partner, Reyes Yosimar García Cruz, also disappeared.

The following day, Jesús Alberto López Vargas, another commander of the Culiacán municipal police, was ambushed at his home, but he survived the assassination attempt. Three weeks later, however, on March 22, López Vargas wasn’t as fortunate — another ambush left him riddled with bullets and lifeless outside a government building.

A month before, on Feb. 19, 2017, Jorge Eusebio Soto Bustamante, also of the Culiacán municipal police, was assassinated. A week later his colleague, Reynaldo Zamora Gaxiola, disappeared, but his remains were found three years later on the banks of a river.

From March 22 to June 18 of that year, several more Culiacán municipal police officers were murdered, bringing the total tally to 16.

According to authorities investigating the murders, the 16 policemen were tagged by Los Chapitos as alleged protectors and gunmen under the command of rival former drug trafficker Dámaso López Núñez, alias “El Licenciado,” who became the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel after “El Chapo” was captured. López Núñez has since been extradited to the United States after his arrest in Mexico City in 2017, and is currently serving time in a maximum-security prison after pleading guilty to cocaine trafficking in September 2018.

Reports also said that the rescue of Ortiz Vega, alias “El Kevin,” was orchestrated by López Núñez himself to hold Ortiz Vega hostage and use him for subsequent negotiations.

On March 9, 2017, Mexican authorities confirmed the death of Ortiz Vega. The then-governor of Sinaloa, Quirino Ordaz Coppel, said that Ortiz Vega’s body was found in the municipality of Navolato, riddled with bullet wounds.

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