JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) – Juarez shelters remain on alert after a group of armed men broke down the door of a church early Tuesday and tried to abduct asylum-seekers sheltered there.

The assailants – believed to be members of a gang or a migrant smuggling organization – entered the Tierra de Oro church and shelter in the Mexico 68 neighborhood in Central Juarez and began lining up the women and children to load them onto vehicles before a passing police car scared them off.

“It was about 1:30 and we were in bed. Several trucks arrived. I heard a loud noise like an earthquake,” said a Venezuelan migrant who witnessed the attack. “They knocked down the door with a truck and took us out of our rooms. They said they were going to take the men in one truck, the women and the children in another.”

The witness, who declined to give his name out of fear for his life, said the assailants aborted the mass abduction after spotting a Juarez police car off in the distance. Still, they took all of the migrants’ money and their cellphones, he said.

The shelter is part of the Tierra de Oro church refuges run by El Paso Pastor Rosalio Sosa.

“The level of insecurity has gone up a lot to the point they attack shelters. They don’t realize how much we struggle to bring supplies to these humanitarian spaces, and then they come and rob us and beat us,” Sosa told a KTSM/Border Report photo crew.

Sosa said this is the second attack against guests at Tierra de Oro. Other church-run migrant shelters in Juarez have been attacked recently and remain on alert, he said. Sosa is concerned because the would-be abductors wanted to take the women and the children away separately, and then deal with the men.

The migrants believe the assailants were part of an immigrant smuggling gang bent on kidnapping them for ransom.

Pastor Rosalio Sosa, leader of the Tierra de Oro (Land of Gold) migrant shelters. (Border Report photo)

But Chihuahua state police spokesman Enrique Rodriguez said investigators are looking into the incident as an armed robbery until further evidence reveals otherwise.

Nonetheless, migrants frequently are held against their will in Juarez until their relatives pay a ransom. On Sept. 19, Juarez police arrested three men for the kidnapping of five Guatemalan nationals and for keeping another 14 Central Americans and Mexicans in “inhumane” conditions at a safe house. On Sept. 8, Juarez police found 14 migrants at a different safe house and arrested two other alleged migrant smugglers.

Juarez has a large, fenced-off federal shelter patrolled by the Mexican National Guard and a municipal shelter in a gym next to a police substation. But most church-run shelters’ only safeguards against criminals are metal fences and locked doors.