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 eight and injuring 100 in what officials said Tuesday was an act of terrorism.
One of the grenades exploded about 200 yards from where Gov. Leonel Godoy was ringing a bell as part of the “cry of independence” around 11 p.m. Monday as hundreds in the capital of Michoacan state blew horns and waved flags in the central plaza to mark the country’s independence from Spain.
A second grenade went off on another side of the plaza, and a third 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 of the injuries appeared to come from shrapnel hitting people in the legs.
Analysts warned that drug cartels and kidnappers are now targeting civilians, 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.
Godoy said threats had been made of possible holiday attacks but not in Morelia. He declared Tuesday a day of mourning in Michoacan.
There have been a record 3,800 drug-related killings this year, including about 450 police, and critics of Calderon say few of those crimes will ever be solved.
Commentator Ricardo Aleman said Tuesday that organized-crime groups involved in drug trafficking, kidnapping and other hostilities may be stepping up their tactics as the government attempts a crackdown. “I think this is part of a deliberate strategy to weaken people’s confidence in government institutions,” he said.
Aleman also said the attack in Calderon’s hometown sent a message that the heavily armed and well-funded criminal groups fear no one.
Michoacan is home to several of Mexico’s most violent organized-crime groups, including “La Familia,” which is suspected in the killings of 24 men whose bodies were dumped on a hillside outside Mexico City last week.