IMAGE: FIRE AT PIPELINE
Pablo Spencer  /  AP
A soldier stands near a burning facility of the state oil company PEMEX in Maltrata, Mexico, on Monday. A rebel group claimed responsibility for six explosions that affected a dozen Mexican gas and oil pipelines.
updated 9/11/2007 2:16:29 PM ET 2007-09-11T18:16:29

One of Mexico's largest automotive plants and hundreds of other factories were shut down Tuesday after a series of gas and oil pipeline explosions, apparently caused by a shadowy rebel group, left them without fuel.

Volkswagen AG said it suspended production at its sprawling car factory outside the city of Puebla — the company's only North American manufacturing site — on Monday because of a lack of natural gas. Glassmaker Vitro SAB also said it was temporarily closing six plants across central and western Mexico.

Six explosions ripped apart pipelines in eastern Mexico on Monday, rattling financial markets in the U.S. and Mexico. Industry officials estimated losses at $90 million.

It was the second time in three months that a group calling itself the People's Revolutionary Army has claimed pipeline bombings as part of what it has labeled its "prolonged people's war" against "the anti-people government."

The group, known as the EPR, is a secretive Marxist group that killed dozens of police and soldiers during attacks in the late 1990s. It was later weakened by internal divisions, leaving it unclear which splinter group carried out the attacks.

Valve stations targeted
The new explosions affected a dozen natural gas pipelines and one oil pipeline in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, said Jesus Reyes, the head of Mexico's oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex. The attacks occurred in valve stations where pipelines intersect.

At least one undetonated explosive device was found beside a pipeline about 500 yards from a highway toll booth just north of the port of Veracruz, said the state's civil defense coordinator, Ismael Reyes.

It was accompanied by a note signed by the EPR, according to a Veracruz state police official who was not authorized to be quoted by name. Local news media said the note demanded the release of purported political prisoners _ similar to demands that were made public after earlier blasts _ though officials did not publicly describe the document.

Veracruz Gov. Fidel Herrera told reporters "there was a note, and the indication was that it could be these groups," but he did not clarify the contents or authorship of the message.

Pemex immediately shut down the stricken lines as well as another line in the area as a precaution. Reyes said about nine states and the capital, Mexico City, would be affected, but did not elaborate.

Trucking not an option
"It is a big blow," the Pemex chief said. "You can't store natural gas or transport it by truck."

Reyes said Pemex would have to burn off whatever gas it did not succeed in recovering. It would then take four or five days to restore service, he said.

Volkswagen and its union agreed to begin operations by next Monday, or earlier if gas is re-established before then.

The explosions were not expected to have a sizable effect on natural gas prices in the U.S.

Mexico's main stock index fell about 1 percent Monday amid the reports of possible sabotage, but shares rebounded in early trading Tuesday.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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