Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Indiscriminate drug killings sow terror in Mexico - Yahoo! News

It just keeps getting worse. So much for cheap beer in TJ.

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) – Gunmen are deliberately killing innocent people with random shootings at bars, restaurants and shopping malls in the city of Tijuana in a new scare tactic that takes Mexico's drug war to new depths.

Hit squads have killed at least 50 people, including around 10 children, since October in an escalation of violence in public places that security officials say is akin to terrorism.

The indiscriminate attacks, including shootings in cinemas, pool halls and restaurants, appear to be an attempt by the weakened Arellano Felix cartel to show security forces and rival gangs that it is still a force despite setbacks.

In one recent attack, gunmen in body armor and armed with assault rifles stormed into Tijuana's popular Crazy Banana pool hall and opened fire on customers, killing four men and a woman.

"We were playing pool and these masked men came in shouting and started firing at everyone," said day laborer Juan Miguel at the scene, wiping blood from his head after the attack. He declined to give his surname.

"Anyone close to them was immediately killed," he said.

City police say none of the pool hall victims appeared to have links to drug gangs, a marked change from drug killings across Mexico this year when hit squads have gone after specific targets even if they also clumsily killed others.

"In fact, we don't see a clear target in any of the recent killings of this kind. We cannot rule out that these are terror-style acts," said Juan Salvador Ortiz, a deputy prosecutor for Baja California state, home to Tijuana.

Police and anti-drug experts believe Tijuana's Arellano Felix organization, which has been hurt by the arrests of former leaders and a turf war with other gangs, is behind the shootings as it desperately tries to hold its ground.

Under a nationwide clampdown on drug gangs, President Felipe Calderon has sent thousands of soldiers and federal police to Baja California since January 2007, complicating life for the Arellano Felix clan that became notorious and made a fortune in the 1990s for smuggling cocaine into California, one of the world's top drug markets.

Soldiers have made big drug seizures and captured more Arellano Felix leaders but have failed to stop the violence.

"The Tijuana turf is too valuable to lose. They are doing this to stay in the city, to show their power and ridicule the authorities," said Victor Clark, a drug trade expert at San Diego State University, of the public shootings.

"Empty streets make it easier for them to operate."


Drug killings throughout Mexico have skyrocketed this year, scaring off investment and prompting the United States to send hundreds of millions of dollars to help its southern neighbor.

The number of fatalities has more than doubled to nearly 5,400 people so far this year and 2009 could be even worse, Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said on Monday.

The army has warned people in Tijuana to stay indoors as much as possible, angering city residents.

"We cannot live locked up. They are the ones who should be behind bars," Tijuana's Archbishop Rafael Romo told Reuters.

The new scare tactics come amid a shocking level of violence in Tijuana, once a freewheeling city serving tequila, sex and medicine to Americans crossing over from San Diego.

Tijuana has seen more than 700 people killed this year in drug-related violence as Mexico's most-wanted man Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, a prison escapee who leads a cartel from the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, tries to gain control.

The rival Gulf cartel and its armed wing, the Zetas, has joined the fight, fanning out from its home turf across the border from Texas.

The three biggest gangs are using horrifying methods to outdo each other, beheading victims, cutting up bodies, dumping them in barrels of acid and even storming hospitals to finish off targets they had left wounded but clinging to life.

In the first major attack on civilians, suspected drug gang members threw grenades into a packed crowd celebrating Mexico's independence day in September in the western city of Morelia, killing eight people and wounding more than 100.

Indiscriminate drug killings sow terror in Mexico - Yahoo! News

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