A running gunbattle between rival drug gangs left at least 16 people dead in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa, local authorities said Thursday.
"A van with seven bodies was located" after an initial clash between two rival gangs while nine bodies were discovered following a second exchange, Sinaloa's state security minister Cristobal Castaneda told reporters.
Castaneda said the clash, in the rural community of Tepuche, was "part of a struggle between two organized crime gangs in the area."
Local media reported that the clash involved members of the Sinaloa cartel -- pitching part of the gang run by the children of ex-leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman against members led by Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, considered the group's number two.
The reports pointed to a deep split in one of Mexico's most powerful drug cartels, despite El Chapo's 2016 capture and subsequent extradition to the United States where he is serving a life sentence.
Castaneda said the rival groups had clashed on eight separate occasions in the area since May 29.
In the aftermath of the shootings, police confiscated 40 high caliber weapons, 10 grenades, 36,000 rounds of ammunition and 24 vehicles, the official said.
The victims were all men, aged 20 to 50, and seven of them have been identified as residents of Tepuche. Bodies in the van wore tactical clothing, including bulletproof vests,
Organized crime has remained active in Mexico, despite confinement due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Specialists and human rights defenders attribute Mexico's drug-related violence to a controversial military crackdown on organized crime launched in late 2006 by then president Felipe Calderon.
According to official data, since then there have been more than 287,000 murders in the country, though it is not clear how many cases are linked to organized crime.