MONTERREY, Mexico – Police found five mutilated bodies outside the wealthy city of Monterrey on Tuesday, part of a series of attacks that killed 23 people and dragged the region deeper into Mexico's drug war.

Gunmen dumped the five dead men, their arms and legs chopped off, on a street in the town of Montemorelos south of Monterrey just before dawn, police and witnesses said, in a escalation of killings since the New Year blamed on drug cartels and alarming locals and businesses. [nN12146154]

The unprecedented spate of killings over the past 24 hours in and around Monterrey also included the drive-by shooting of three brothers while they were eating tacos, and an attack by gunmen on five men in a working class neighborhood. One woman died of a heart attack after witnessing that multiple homicide, and nine were killed in other shootings, police said.

"In this toll of 23 deaths ... it is clear this violence is being unleashed by warring criminals," said Jorge Domene, security spokesman for the Nuevo Leon state government. Monterrey is the state's capital.


Drug violence in Monterrey -- once considered a model city where income is double Mexico's average -- soared to record levels last year and killings have further intensified in the first few weeks of 2011.

At least 60 people have died in drug violence in just 18 days across Nuevo Leon, and gangs are increasingly targeting corrupt police they suspect are working for rivals. The state government is struggling to respond and has called on President Felipe Calderon to send more troops.