Three gunmen were killed and two others wounded Thursday in a clash with Mexican marines in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, authorities said.

They said the confrontation took place in the central highlands of Veracruz.

It was about 5:00 a.m. when a convoy of marines on patrol outside the industrial city of Cordoba came under fire from a cluster of small homes, according to initial reports.

The ensuing gunfight, which lasted for 40 minutes, ended with three attackers dead and two others in custody. The marines also rescued a kidnapping victim and seized guns and drugs, the state government said in a statement.

Twenty people have been killed in and around Cordoba this month in violence authorities blame on the drug trade.

Veracruz has been plagued by a turf war involving rival drug cartels that has sent the state's murder rate skyrocketing over the past two years.

The conflict involves the Gulf, Los Zetas and Jalisco Nueva Generacion cartels, as well as breakaway members of the once-powerful La Familia Michoacana organization.

The federal government launched "Operation Safe Veracruz" last October in an effort to curb gangland violence in the Gulf coast state, which is coveted as a key drug-trafficking corridor to the United States. EFE