Gunmen open fire on Mexico Army chopper as violence roils major state

By Jose Luis Osorio GUADALAJARA, Mexico (Reuters) - Armed men attacked a Mexican army helicopter on Friday, killing three on board and forcing it to the ground on a day of violence that left at least seven people dead and vehicles, banks and gas stations ablaze. Security in Jalisco state, one of the growth engines of the Mexican economy, has become an increasing problem for President Enrique Pena Nieto, who took office pledging to pacify the country following years of brutal drug gang violence. The local Jalisco New Generation cartel was believed to be behind the attack on the helicopter that forced it into an emergency landing, a government official said. In Jalisco's capital, Guadalajara, the second-largest city in Mexico, vehicles were set on fire in and around the metropolitan area. At least 15 people were injured in the violence. "This is a reaction to an operation we are doing to get to the bottom of, and detain leaders of this cartel," Jalisco Governor Aristoteles Sandoval said. There were 29 road blocks, while 12 banks and 16 gas stations were also "affected" by the violence, Sandoval added, as local media showed images of buses and buildings burning. The other dead included a state policeman and two suspected members of the cartel in a gunfight in Autlan, western Jalisco, as well as the driver of a truck used by gangsters to block roads, Jalisco state government spokesman Gonzalo Sanchez said. The Defense Ministry said three other security personnel were still missing after the attack on the helicopter, which took place by a highway in southwestern Jalisco near the coast. Ten army personnel and two police were left injured. Over the past two months, security forces have come under attack in Jalisco from organized crime, with at least 20 federal and state police killed in separate incidents. With an economy bigger than Kenya's, Jalisco is home to close to 8 million people and accounts for roughly 6.5 percent of Mexican gross domestic product. It is also the heartland of tequila and Mexico's mariachi musicians. Though the official homicide toll in Jalisco has fallen since Pena Nieto took office in December 2012, the president identified the state as one of the areas most at risk when he set out plans to improve security in Mexico last November. Since the start of 2007, more than 100,000 people in Mexico have died in violence linked to the drug gangs. (Additional reporting by Tomas Sarmiento, Anahi Rama and Christine Murray in Mexico City; Editing by Alan Crosby and Dave Graham)