JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Mexican authorities on Wednesday blamed the “Mexicles” drug gang for Tuesday’s “night of terror” in Juarez.
Gang members murdered eight men and set fire to 15 vehicles, including 10 city buses, in the space of a few hours Tuesday night.
Mexican authorities said the violence — described as a distraction — was meant to stop a raid at the Cereso 3 state prison, adding that the prison has become a headquarters for drug lords.
“A criminal group tried to stop us from conducting an in-depth inspection at the jail by effecting violent acts that included setting fire to public transportation buses,” Juarez Mayor Armando Cabada said on Wednesday. “These actions will not dissuade us in any way from doing our duty.”
His office later identified that group as the “Mexicles,” which were originally a Mexican-American prison gang but are now identified by crime experts as hired street muscle for the Sinaloa cartel.
Six people, including two elderly women, were hospitalized with first- and second-degree burns when gang members boarded a bus Tuesday night at the intersection of Tecnologico and Granjero streets, set fire to the front seats and ordered everyone to get out the emergency exit, officials said. Three of the victims were released from hospitals early Wednesday, while three others remained under observation. Late on Tuesday, four men were arrested for the arson, injuries and causing a civil disturbance.
Chihuahua State Police Director Óscar Alberto Aparicio Avendaño said the prison operation took place in the early hours of Wednesday and that the officers were tasked with confiscating guns, drugs, cellphones and other prohibited items from inmates.
“We know that many of these penal institutions are command centers for criminals, that orders are relayed from the inside to people on the outside to execute. That is why we will remain at Cereso for as long as it is necessary,” Aparicio said.
He added that the raid, which was carried out by 850 military, federal, state and municipal personnel, has not met any resistance so far inside the prison. Hundreds of National Guardsmen remain in the city securing the state prison and other facilities.
The raid had been planned days in advance, but drug traffickers inside the prison apparently were tipped off it was coming, Juarez officials said. The landing of National Guard soldiers at the Juarez Airport earlier this week was probably reported to gang leaders, who plotted how to stop it.
The attacks were reminiscent of the recent mayhem unleashed in the Western city of Culiacan, where hundreds of Sinaloa cartel members set fire to vehicles and took control of the city until securing the release of Ovidio Guzman, the son of jailed drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. The soldiers who had taken him into custody released Ovidio Guzman after the Mexican government decided to avoid a bloodbath on the streets of Culiacan.
But while the Sinaloa cartel’s reaction has been described by observers as widespread and highly coordinated, with armament that included .50-caliber machine guns mounted on trucks, the “Mexicles” attacks were random.
“The ‘Mexicles’ … they are diminished. We have seized their drugs, guns and vehicles. They are so diminished that they hired four drug addicts and they paid them with drugs (to burn the bus). They don’t have the strength,” to stand up to the authorities, Avedano said. “I want to be clear that we have the control, the rule of law is in place. We will continue to fight the drug cartels head on. We will not take a single step back.”
But while authorities claimed the upper hand, five more people were murdered on Wednesday morning, including the chief of police of the suburb of San Isidro, across the Rio Grande from Socorro, Texas. And gang members reportedly continued to make threats on social media.
“Unfortunately, social media sometimes is used in a wrongful way to relay the wrong messages,” Cabada said, adding that his uniformed municipal police was out in force on the streets of Juarez to prevent further violence. The Mayor asked for the support of border residents to rid his community of the gangs that have murdered nearly 1,300 people so far this year in the city.
Cabada said the raid on the prison would be followed by a large-scale operation to arrest drug dealers and close down drug distribution points in the Downtown Juarez-City Market area.
Juarez and many other Mexican cities have become drug consumers since the United States hardened inspections at ports of entry and hired more Border Patrol and other agents after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, analysts say.
According to Chihuahua state Deputy Attorney General Jorge Nava, 90 percent of Juarez’s murders are linked to retail drug sales, as organized criminal gangs try to secure control of street-level profits.
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