In an attack on a rehabilitation center, 24 people were killed by unidentified gunmen amid possible gang violence rampant in north-central Mexico, authorities announced Thursday.

Police said the attack in the city of Irapuato, Guanajuato state, wounded seven, with three in critical condition.

Despite the motive of the attack being unclear, Governor Diego Sinhue Rodriguez Vallejo said it was highly likely to be another example of gang violence.

“I deeply regret and condemn the events in Irapuato this afternoon,” the governor wrote on Wednesday. “The violence caused by organized crime not only takes the lives of the young, but it takes the peace from families in Guanajuato.”

Drug cartels continue to maintain a strong and lethal grip at a time when the country is grappling with the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 28,000 and infected over 231,000 people across the nation.

The government under ex-President Felipe Calderon began aggressively fighting cartel groups in 2006, hoping to squelch their influence by targeting their leaders.

In 2009, it was estimated that 45,000 military troops and federal and state police were fighting the so-called “war on drugs.”

Since the initiative began, an estimated 200,000 people have died or disappeared due to cartel violence.

Government response

After several years of violence under the war on drugs, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador vowed to change the narrative. During his campaign, he said the government should not fight “violence with violence.”

Instead, he wanted to take a more peaceful approach.

“You cannot fight fire with fire. We do not want deaths. We do not want a war,” he said.

However, experts have since accused Obrador of similarly aggressive tactics, citing the fact that he sent the army to capture a cartel leader and created the elite National Guard police division.

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