MEXICO CITY — Gunmen on Thursday ambushed a Mexican government convoy conducting a security patrol southwest of the capital, killing 13 prosecutors and police officers in what appeared to be the deadliest assault on Mexican law enforcement in well over a year, officials said.
The attack was a major setback to government security forces and yet another reminder of the severe security challenges facing President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. The president took office in 2018 promising to make Mexico a safer place, but he has been unable to put a meaningful dent in the violence that has long bloodied the country.
Rodrigo Martínez Celis Wogau, security minister for the State of Mexico, called the ambush “an affront to the Mexican state” and promised to “respond with total force.”
The convoy on Thursday was patrolling in Coatepec Harinas, about 40 miles southwest of Mexico City, the capital, to “combat criminal groups who operate in that zone,” Mr. Martínez added in a video statement posted on Twitter.
The death toll included eight police officers from Mr. Martínez’s department, the Security Secretariat, as well as five representatives of the state’s Attorney General’s office, officials said.
Images apparently taken at the scene of the attack and published by local media showed the bloodied bodies of officers lying on the road and slumped inside police vehicles. Other images showed government vehicles riddled with bullet holes.
The attack appeared to be the deadliest assault on Mexican law enforcement agents since October 2019, when gunmen killed 14 police officers in the state of Michoacán.
In that assault, the officers were traveling in a police convoy that was planning to pick up a woman and her daughter to testify as victims of domestic violence. As they were crossing through the village of El Aguaje, in Michoacán, the convoy was attacked by gunmen.
Last year, gunmen wounded the Mexico City police chief and killed two of his bodyguards and a bystander when they opened fire on his convoy as it drove through an affluent residential neighborhood of the capital.
Thursday’s slayings in central Mexico added to the 86 police officers who had been killed already this year, according to Causa en Común, a Mexican anti-corruption group that focuses on public security.
Last year was the deadliest year for police since the group began tracking deaths in 2018, with at least 524 officers killed.
Like most crimes in Mexico, the majority of police killings go unpunished, security analysts say.
“The feeling that’s left is that it’s possible to attack an agent of the state without consequences,” said Alejandro Hope, a Mexico City-based security analyst. “If we can’t protect the lives of the police, how can we ask them to protect ours?”
The federal government immediately responded to the killings on Thursday by deploying elements of the Marines, the Army and the National Guard to the area, Mr. Martínez said.
Officials made no immediate comment about potential suspects in the attack, but Mr. Martínez blamed “organized crime.”