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Mexico nabs 3 suspects in journalist kidnappings

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MEXICO CITY — Three suspected drug-gang members who allegedly participated in the kidnapping of three television journalists last week were arrested in northern Mexico, federal police announced Thursday.

The goal of the kidnappings was to force news media outlets to air video segments implicating a rival gang in the corruption of local authorities, Federal Police Commissioner Facundo Rosas told a news conference. The three men worked for the Sinaloa drug cartel, Rosas said.

The three journalists kidnapped July 26 and a fourth reporter snatched elsewhere on the same day have all been freed.

One of the suspects was wounded in a shootout with police at the time of his arrest Wednesday in the northern state of Durango, Rosas said.

The suspects, ages 23, 25, and 33, allegedly worked for the cartel carrying out local drug sales, killings and kidnappings near the Durango city of Gomez Palacio.

Police caught the first suspect Wednesday in a raid on a house used by the cell in Gomez Palacio, and that suspect led them to the other two, Rosa said.

During the raid, authorities seized three pistols and a video camera belonging to one of the journalists, as well as two ID cards from a federal detective agency.

The dispute that led to the journalists' abduction began last month when the director of a Gomez Palacio prison was accused of allowing inmates allied with the Sinaloa cartel to take temporary leaves from the prison to murder their rivals. Prison officials allegedly even lent the inmates guns and vehicles to carry out the killings.

The Zetas drug gang, a rival of the Sinaloa cartel, first drew attention to the scandal by kidnapping a local police officer and forcing him to describe the scheme on a video posted to a website that specializes in drug underworld information.

The Sinaloa cartel responded by posting videos in which men identifying themselves as police officers described how they cooperated with the Zetas.

The Sinaloa cartel then apparently kidnapped the journalists to demand that the television stations they work for air the video clips. Fearing for the safety of the journalists, one of the stations did so briefly.

Press-freedom groups say Mexico is one of the deadliest countries for journalists. More than 60 have been killed in the country since 2000, according to the National Human Rights Commission, and many have been harassed and threatened by drug gangs.