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Gunmen kill 23 in Honduras bus attack
Updated: 2004-12-24 14:11

Gunmen opened fire on a public bus in northern Honduras late Thursday, killing at least 23 passengers and wounding 16 others, police said. Many aboard were women and children.

The bus was traveling through a congested area of Chamelecon, 125 miles north of Tegucigalpa, when a car filled with assailants cut it off and other attackers fired from positions behind the bus, said police spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Wilmer Torres.

Torres said the majority of the passengers were women and children but it wasn't immediately clear how many of them were among the casualties. Sixteen victims died at the scene while the seven others died after being rush to a hospital, Torres said.

"What happened tonight is a barbaric and cowardly act unlike very few we have seen in Honduras' history," President Ricardo Maduro said in a nationally televised address. "It is an attack against all Hondurans."

It wasn't immediately clear who carried out the attack. But Torres said the assailants left a note saying they represented a revolutionary group that opposes the death penalty and which contained vulgar comments about congressional President Porfirio Lobo Sosa, who has suggested instituting the death penalty for severe crimes.

The note added that "people should take advantage of this Christmas, because the next one will be worse," Torres said.

Police arrested a suspect who's believed to be a member of the violent Mara Salvatrucha gang and confiscated a pistol and several automatic weapons, the police official said.

The Mara Salvatrucha gang and another, Mara 18, claim to have more than 100,000 members in Honduras. The gangs are known for extorting "protection" money from residents as well as committing robberies, homicides and other crimes.

Maduro has waged a zero-tolerance campaign against the gangs, and at his bidding Congress approved a law in August 2003 that sentences gang members to up to 12 years in prison. Gang members have responded with more violent attacks.

In his address, Maduro said the government was offering a $50,000 reward for information that would lead to the capture of the attackers. He said a combined police-military operation was under way to track them down.

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