Cartel rivalry blamed in latest Mexico drug clinic slayings

Soldiers stand outside the drug rehabilitation center where, according to local media, at least 10 people were killed after unidentified gunmen stormed it. Five other people were killed early today in Ciudad Juarez when gunmen attacked the Coco Bongo nightclub as customers were deep in celebration of Mexican Independence Day.
(Raymundo Ruiz / Associated Press)

In the second mass slaying at a Mexican rehab clinic in less than two weeks, gunmen burst into the Life Annex addiction treatment center in the volatile border city of Ciudad Juarez and killed at least 10 people -- patients and therapists alike.

The gunmen escaped, and authorities on Wednesday blamed the Tuesday night shooting on a “war of extermination” among drug traffickers. Rehabilitation clinics are often targeted as Mexican drug gangs hunt rivals or attempt to settle old scores.

Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes Ferriz said Wednesday that the violence marked the latest outbreak of a war between rival cartels -- the locally based Carrillo Fuentes gang and its enemies from the state of Sinaloa -- attempting to gain control of the city’s flourishing drug market.


This was the sixth drug treatment center attacked in Ciudad Juarez in the last 13 months. The deadliest assault occurred Sept. 2, when 18 people were lined up against a clinic wall and cut down by automatic weapon fire.

In the wake of Tuesday’s slayings, security officials ordered 10 Ciudad Juarez drug treatment centers closed, citing irregularities in their permits and a lack of security measures. Officials have said that some clinics are really just fronts for drug dealers.

“This is to prevent occurrence of another such act,” said Victor Valencia, chief of security for Chihuahua state, where Ciudad Juarez is located.

The attack in a working-class neighborhood left dead director Dr. Iram Ortiz; a female patient he was counseling; another doctor and seven male clients, said Enrique Torres, a spokesman for government security forces. At least two other people were seriously wounded, he said in a telephone interview.

A survivor who watched the massacre while hiding inside the clinic told reporters that as many as eight gunmen burst through the front door and fired indiscriminately.

The shooting started around 10:15 p.m., after some residents of the facility had attended a prayer session and gone to bed. Neighbors said they had at first confused the gunfire with fireworks exploding in the city’s main square as part of festivities marking the 199th anniversary of Mexico’s independence from Spain, which started late Tuesday and continued through Wednesday.

Frantic, sobbing relatives gathered outside the facility early Wednesday, pleading for information and bemoaning the loss of their kin.

Despite a heavy military presence, Ciudad Juarez, sitting just across the border from El Paso, is Mexico’s most violent city in a raging drug war that has claimed more than 13,000 lives since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against powerful cartels in December 2006.

Scores of treatment centers for people with drug and alcohol problems have sprung up in numerous Mexican cities, reflecting this country’s fast-growing addiction problem. Once just a pathway for drugs headed to the U.S., Mexico has become a consumer nation; the government says the number of addicts here increased 51% from 2002 to 2008.

But far from sanctuaries, many of the treatment centers have become part of the violent world spawned by drug trafficking. Many of the clients come from the gangs fighting to control the drug market, and the battle in the streets carries over into the clinics. Often the centers are used as a fertile recruiting ground by traffickers.

And some of the facilities, as officials noted Wednesday, are fly-by-night fronts with little connection to serious rehabilitation. Valencia, the security official, ordered a citywide inspection of the centers.

“This is a war of extermination among criminal groups,” state prosecutor Patricia Gonzalez said at a news conference.

Elsewhere in Ciudad Juarez, five people were killed early Wednesday when gunmen attacked the Coco Bongo nightclub as customers were deep in Independence Day celebrations. It was the 23rd nightclub in the city this year in which patrons have been killed, according to tallies by local newspapers.

On Tuesday afternoon, five other people -- including two U.S. citizens from El Paso -- were shot to death at a carwash in Ciudad Juarez.

And in Tijuana, the bodies of six people were found stuffed in a car and badly burned.