A grenade attack on thousands of Independence Day revelers killed seven, injured more than 100 and posed a brazen new challenge by organized crime to Mexico's government on Tuesday. The attack was, for Mexico, the rough equivalent of a domestic terrorist hit on a July Fourth parade in Texas, and President Felipe Calderon acted quickly in a nationally televised address, he urged citizens not to be afraid, and pledged an immediate military response.
The two military fragmentation grenades exploded late Monday night during the traditional "grito," or shout for independence, in the main plaza of Morelia, where throngs of families had gathered to celebrate.
"These clandestine acts were clearly attacking our national security, committed by true traitors who have no respect for others or for the country," said Calderon.
He asked Mexicans to provide any information to authorities that could help the investigation, and said "those who believe they can use fear to hold our society hostage and immobilize us, are mistaken. ... They are doomed to fail."
The grenades exploded just as Leonel Godoy, governor of Calderon's home state of Michoacan, was leading the ceremonies. Godoy, who was not injured, blamed organized crime, without providing more details. Michoacan is a hotbed for drug trafficking, and the same networks that bring marijuana and cocaine into the United States are responsible for much of the crime in Mexico. "Without a doubt, we believe this was done by organized crime," Godoy told Mexico's Televisa network.
Since taking office in 2006, Calderon has dispatched more than 25,000 soldiers to confront the cartels, and the cartels have responded fiercely, unleashing unprecedented violence including daytime shootouts, assassinations, beheadings and massacres. But this attack was one of the boldest yet, targeting a cherished tradition that brings millions of Mexicans together in public plazas each year. It cast an immediate pall over Tuesday's Sept. 16 parades, planned for cities and towns across the nation to celebrate the 1810 start of Mexico's 10-year war of independence from Spain. "The Mexican people, especially on this important date, should remain united in the face of those who want to divide us," Calderon said.
Godoy canceled Morelia's Independence Day parade, "because there are children, women and innocent people who have been hurt." He said his office had received threats against celebrations in other cities, as well as the Morelia parade. "We were prepared for that, but we never thought there would be such cowardly attack on innocent people."
The city was under heavy guard after the attack, with soldiers and federal, state and local police manning checkpoints on surrounding highways.
An official from the state prosecutor's office identified the explosives as fragmentation grenades _ which are illegal for nonmilitary use in Mexico. Authorities have made no arrests and were still trying to identify the suspects, said the official, who was not authorized to give his name.
The attack comes only days after 24 bodies were found bound and killed execution-style in a rural area outside Mexico City in one of the largest massacres in recent history.