MEXICO CITY (AP) — Two decapitated bodies were found at the entrance to one of Mexico's most luxurious shopping malls on Wednesday and prosecutors announced that more than 47,000 people have been killed in drug violence in the five years since President Felipe Calderon launched a military crackdown against drug cartels.
The bodies were found before dawn inside a burning SUV just off a toll highway at the entrance to the shopping mall in the heart of the Santa Fe district that is a haven for international corporations, diplomats and the wealthy. The heads and a threatening message were dumped nearby, Mexico City prosecutors said in a statement.
Local media published images of the charred car and reported the note written on hot pink paper was signed by the drug gang "Mano con Ojos," or "Hand with Eyes." The gang was once part of the Beltran Leyva drug cartel.
The victims, a man and a woman in their 30s, have not been identified, prosecutors said. They said the SUV with license plates from the neighboring State of Mexico had been stolen.
Mexico's sprawling capital had been something of an haven from the brutal cartel violence along the border and in outlying states. But gangs have been fighting for an increasingly lucrative local drug market for more than a year, mainly on capital's working class outer neighborhoods and suburbs.
The Santa Fe district, built atop a former landfill on the western edge of Mexico City, houses the Mexican headquarters of major corporations and the Iberoamerican University, one of Mexico's top private schools, as well as modernistic, heavily guarded high-rises where wealthy Mexicans and foreigners live.
Most of the violence had escaped Santa Fe, which had been seen as a sterile oasis disconnected from the hubbub of most of the capital.
But as the fight among splintering drug cartels intensifies, the brazen attackers have reached even into the country's most guarded districts.
In October, the same Manos con Ojos gang claimed responsibility for leaving two severed heads on a street across from the nation's top military base in Mexico City.
The Attorney General's Office said Wednesday that 47,515 drug-related killings occurred from December 2006, when Calderon deployed thousands of troops to drug hot spots, through September 2011.
Drug-related killings went up 11 percent in the first nine months of 2011 when 12,903 people were killed, compared to 11,583 in the same period of 2010, the office said.
The figures indicate that three quarters of all homicides in Mexico are now linked to the drug war.
The office found one small consolation: "It's the first year (since 2006) that the homicide rate increase has been lower compared to the previous years."
There had been a 70 percent increase in drug-related killings in the same period a year earlier, when death rose from a nine-month total of 6,815 for 2009.
Prosecutors said a large majority of the killings last year happened in eight of Mexico's 32 states.
The Mexican government had been periodically releasing the number of drug war dead but it stopped a year ago when they reached nearly 35,000.
Mexico's freedom of information agency had said it would ask for an investigation if prosecutors didn't release the data requested by several journalists by Wednesday.
The Attorney General's Office said that more than releasing the number of dead, what's important "it's to guarantee that each killing is investigated." Records show few of the killings have been investigated.