Gunmen attack bus in Honduras, killing 28

Street gang suspected

29 others wounded

December 25, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MEXICO CITY - Gunmen thought to be street gang members opened fire at a bus in Honduras on Thursday night, killing 28 people, including four children, who were on their way home from work and Christmas shopping.

The attack occurred about 7 p.m., authorities said, in one of the poorest sections of the northern Honduran city of San Pedro Sula. Several men in a pickup truck cut in front of the moving bus, which was carrying more than 70 passengers, and opened fire with automatic weapons.

A spokesman for the Security Ministry, Leonel Sauceda, said 28 passengers were killed and 29 wounded.

The attackers left a note taped to the bus. In it, Sauceda said, the gunmen claimed they were members of a leftist guerrilla group, the Cinchoneros, which had been thought to be defunct.

The note cursed President Ricardo Maduro and other government officials, Sauceda said, blamed the government's anti-crime campaigns for the attack and warned that there would be more bloodshed.

Sauceda said most of the evidence indicated that the attack had been committed by street gangs, known as maras, that have caused a crime wave across Central America and Mexico over the past decade.

Sauceda said police arrested Thursday night a suspect who was a member of the Mara Salvatrucha, one of Honduras' largest gangs.

The suspect, Sauceda said, was driving a truck that matched the description of the truck involved in the shooting and was carrying a .38-caliber pistol. The truck was full of spent casings from automatic weapons, he said.

Addressing the nation on television Thursday night, Maduro said, "This is a barbaric and cowardly act like few we have seen in the history of Honduras. We will punish those responsible with the full weight of the law. We will not rest. We will not back down."

Police estimated that there are more than 100,000 gang members in Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico. The two largest gangs, the Mara Salvatrucha and the Mara 18, were started in Los Angeles among the children of people who fled Central America during the civil wars of the 1980s.

In a crackdown against gangs during the mid-1990s, the United States began deporting thousands of gang members back to their native Central America. There, they began organizing new groups, and their violence turned poor neighborhoods into battlefields.

In the Chamelecon neighborhood, where the bus attack occurred, residents said yesterday that they did not know whom to blame or whom to trust.

The attack occurred four blocks from a clinic that removes tattoos from young men and women struggling to get out of gangs.

"What do we think? We don't know what to think," nurse Suyapa Bonilla, said by telephone. "It could be the gangs. It could be the police. It could be some other mafia. The only thing we know is that no one feels safe anymore."

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