- The US consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, has issued a warning about the area to US citizens.
- The alert came a day after a series of attacks on police in Juarez, believed to be the work of organised crime.
- Violence has risen throughout Mexico in recent years, and the US government has issued warnings about dangerous parts of the country.
After a series of attacks on police in Ciudad Juarez last week, the US Consulate General there issued an alert about potential violence the city, which borders El Paso, Texas.
Just before 3 p.m. that day, gunmen opened fire on police in the eastern part of the city, wounding three. Minutes later, gunmen fired on other officers, including a policewoman who was hospitalized in critical condition.
A little before 4 p.m., police stopped an attack on an officer in downtown Juarez, but that was followed an hour later in the eastern part of the city by an attack that left four officers wounded and hospitalized in stable condition. Shots were fired at a police station after that.
Just before 8 p.m., several suspects were arrested after gunmen fired on a passing police patrol car in the eastern part of the city.
The driver of a public bus told local media that gunmen had forced their way onto the bus, robbing passengers and telling the driver to turn the bus to block the street. The assailants poured gas inside the bus and onto passengers, telling them to get off before torching the bus. No one was hurt.
On January 18, the US consulate in Juarez issued an alert for US citizens and personnel, saying it was aware of “a series of connected attacks” on police in Juarez and in Chihuahua City, the state capital.
“Authorities believe that members of organised criminal groups are carrying out these attacks, which are expected to continue,” the alert said, adding that US personnel should avoid police stations “to the extent possible until further notice.”
The alert advised US citizens to be aware of their surroundings, drive with doors locked and windows up, and be prepared to use alternative routes when travelling between frequent locations.
Attacks on US government personnel in Mexico are rare, but they have happened before. In 2010, at the height of a period of drug-related violence in Juarez, three people, including two US citizens, were gunned down after leaving a party at the consulate in what former gang members testified was a case of mistaken identity.
A ‘virulent reaction’
The city public-security chief in Juarez has ordered police stations to reinforce security, patrolling and closing streets. Local newspaper El Diario also reported that streets had been closed to protect police guarding hospitalized gang members from retaliatory attacks.
The day after the attacks, the mayor of Juarez said they were a “virulent reaction” to recent drug and weapon seizures in the city.
Authorities said more than 120 pounds of crystal meth had been seized between late December and January, with the most recent seizure on the morning of January 16. Police have also arrested dozens of alleged members La Linea and Mexicles, gangs suspected of involvement in the attacks, including a suspected leader of the Mexicles gang.
La Linea is believed to be aligned with the Juarez cartel, and Mexicles has been linked to the Sinaloa cartel. The two gangs were rivals but have become partners, according to local authorities.
Juarez’s location on the border – socially and culturally intertwined with El Paso – makes it valuable to drug traffickers. Between 2008 and 2012, the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels battled for control of smuggling routes through the city, leaving more than 10,000 dead and making it one of the most violent places in the world.
The violence declined significantly after 2012, but a local gang leader said in 2016 that trafficking had continued and warned that drug-related violence in the city would only increase.
And the past four years have seen an increase in killing. After 269 homicides in 2015, the city had 470 in 2016, followed by 636 in 2017 and 1,004 in 2018, according to government data. Through mid-January, the city reportedly had 46 homicides.
Since Gov. Javier Corral took office in October 2016, 66 officers have been killed in Chihuahua state – 29 of them in 2018 and two so far this year. Military police have been sent to Juarez as part of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s national-security plan. About 70 arrived in early December.
As in much of Mexico, the violence in Juarez has been attributed in part to the ongoing fragmentation of and fighting between organised-crime groups. In Chihuahua state, as in other parts of the country, changes in government, which can jumble narco-politico alliances, has also been blamed for some violence.
The bloodshed in Juarez has also been stoked by growing competition over cross-border smuggling by major groups like the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels, as well as by fighting for the burgeoning local drug market, particularly meth sales, led mainly by smaller gangs like La Linea, Mexicles, and Barrio Azteca.
Experts have said most of the recent fighting is mainly between the Juarez cartel and Barrio Azteca, one-time allies. The arrival of meth, pushed largely by the Jalisco New Generation cartel, has added to conflict, with members of Azteca seeing the drug as a threat to their business, according to University of Texas at El Paso professor Howard Campbell.
In 2015, the city had 1,647 cases of narcomenudeo, or street-level drug sales. That rose to 2,779 in 2016 and to 6,576 in 2017, declining only slightly to 6,394 in 2018.
“Most of the homicides … are from a fight over the point of sale of drugs at [the retail level] or they are detentions of people who have a high rank inside the criminal structure, and in this manner they have fragmented … some homicides have as cause that motive,” Jorge Nava, prosecutor for the northern district of Chihuahua, said this month.