Assailants killed the police chief of the northern Mexican city of Santa Catarina inside his office, officials said.

Federal Police officers told Efe that a group of roughly a dozen gunmen arrived at the police headquarters in Santa Catarina, a suburb of the industrial city of Monterrey, on Monday afternoon.

They parked their vehicles, went inside and fired their assault rifles to scatter those inside the building before gunning down police chief German Perez in his office.

Officials said the gunmen managed to escape without any of the police inside the building confronting them. Federal forces, meanwhile, have taken over control of the Santa Catarina police force while an investigation is carried out into the attack.

Perez had become police chief almost one year ago after his predecessor resigned due to threats and after being targeted in an attack by suspected drug cartel hit men.

Elsewhere, assailants attacked a federal courthouse Monday morning in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, killing a state police officer and wounding two others, officials said.

The armed commando riding in an SUV opened fire on the state capital of Xalapa's Palace of Federal Justice, which is located just a few meters (yards) from the Veracruz Attorney General's Office.

State police responded by firing gunshots at the assailants, who killed one officer with the Veracruz Public Safety Secretariat, which oversees the state police force, and wounded two others, both of whom were reportedly out of danger.

In the attack on the courthouse, the state police "valiantly confronted the assailants," Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte de Ochoa said on Twitter.

The SUV in which the assailants were riding was later found abandoned with numerous weapons inside but no arrests have yet been reported.

The attack occurred approximately 48 hours after Federal Police officers arrested Albert Gonzalez Peña - the Los Zetas criminal gang's reputed head of operations in Veracruz state - in Xalapa.

Peña, 43, was arrested in a residential area on various counts of kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking and murder.

Founded by deserters from an elite Mexican special forces unit, Los Zetas is regarded as the most brutal of the country's drug cartels.

Clashes between suspected drug-gang members and security forces have intensified in Veracruz state over the past six months, during which time more than 60 suspected cartel gunmen have been killed.

A total of 15,270 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico last year, and nearly 40,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon militarized the struggle against the country's cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006.

Calderon has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and Federal Police officers across the country to combat drug cartels and other criminal organizations, due in part to distrust of notoriously corrupt local police forces.

 

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