MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Surging gang violence in swaths of northern Mexico is likely due to an internal power struggle within the fractured Sinaloa cartel, Defense Minister Salvador Cienfuegos said on Saturday.
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the powerful boss of the Sinaloa cartel, was extradited to the United States last month and is currently awaiting trial in a New York jail.
Ciefuegos told reporters in Culiacan, the capital of northwestern Sinaloa state, that the leadership vacuum following Guzman's extradition is likely behind a recent spike in violence.
"In the absence of their leader, (rival factions) are fighting over who will control the organization," he said.
"I think that's what is happening," said Cienfuegos, who is Mexico's top military commander.
More soldiers will be dispatched to Sinaloa beginning on Monday, he said, but provided no details on numbers.
Military forces already there will be reorganized, he added.
Last month, there were 116 homicides in Sinaloa, 50 percent more than the same month in 2016, according to the state attorney general's office.
Shootouts in Culiacan resulted in 12 deaths over three days last week. The state education ministry suspended classes in 148 schools on Wednesday, citing security issues.
Meanwhile, Mexican marines used a Black Hawk helicopter on Thursday to kill eight alleged gang members in neighboring Nayarit state, including the head of the Beltran-Leyva gang, a rival of El Chapo.
Violent flashpoints have also played our recently in Baja California and Chihuahua states.
Security analysts have said the Sinaloa cartel is currently in the throes of a power struggle between Guzman's sons Alfredo and Ivan Archivaldo on one side and another leader, Damaso "El Licenciado" Lopez, on the other.
(Reporting by Mexico City newsroom; Editing by Leslie Adler)