Catholic priest
A Catholic priest of San Isidro Labrador in La Paz township east of Mexico State was stabbed to death by unidentified assailants on 5 July 2017Getty Images

Mexican police are investigating the murder of an elderly priest, who was found bound and stabbed to death in his room in La Paz township east of Mexico City on Wednesday (5 July).

The victim was identified as Father Luis López Villa, a parish priest, aged around 71.

Villa is reportedly the third priest to have been killed in Mexico within the first six months of 2017, according to the Associated Press. Two other priests in Tijuana and Mexico City were also attacked this year, but they survived the stabbings.

According to Catholic News Agency, Villa is the 18th priest to be murdered in Mexico in the last six years. Additionally, many others were assaulted or kidnapped.

In May this year, another priest was also stabbed at the conclusion of Mass in Mexico City's Cathedral. He, however, survived the attack.

The attack on Villa reportedly took place in the evening around 8pm local time (2am BST next day). The assailants are suspected to have entered the rectory after breaking into the church. They tied the victim's hands and feet and stabbed him in the chest and neck, according to local media reports.

The church staff was alerted by neighbours, who raised an alarm after they heard noises coming from the church.

Authorities are yet to identify the suspects and establish the motive behind the crime.

Condemning the incident, Cardinal Norberto Rivera, Archbishop of Mexico, has urged the state authorities to ensure that "this heinous crime does not go unpunished".

He conveyed condolences "of the Diocese of Nezahualcóyotl and of the whole Church in the country for the murder of the priest".

Mexico is currently in the news for rising gang wars between drug cartels. Around 26 people were killed on Wednesday when two gangs clashed in the state's Chihuahua city. On Thursday, another 28 people were reportedly killed in fresh violence between jailed drug gang members in a prison in the beach resort town of Acapulco.

Authorities blamed the rise in violence to the absence of notorious Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman of the Sinaloa cartel, who is currently serving a jail term in a US prison. He was extradited to the US in January.