Mexican inmates blamed in hits
Prisoners were given guards’ guns and sent out to kill, officials say
Police escort Luis Vazquez Barragan on Sunday in Mexico City after announcing his arrest. Vazquez Barragan is a top member of a gang of enforcers, officials said. The gang is blamed in the killing of a U.S. Consulate worker.
MEXICO CITY — Guards and officials at a prison in northern Mexico have let inmates out, lent them guns and allowed them to use official vehicles to carry out drug-related killings, including the massacre of 17 people last week, prosecutors said Sunday.
After carrying out the killings, the inmates would return to their cells, the attorney general’s office said in a revelation seen as shocking even for a country wearied by years of drug violence and corruption.
“According to witnesses, the inmates were allowed to leave with authorization of the prison director … to carry out instructions for revenge attacks using official vehicles and using guards’ weapons for executions,” Ricardo Najera, a spokesman for the attorney general, said at a news conference.
The director of the prison in Go- mez Palacio, Durango, and three other officials were placed under a form of house arrest pending further investigation. No charges have been filed.
Prosecutors said the prison-based hit squad is suspected in three mass shootings, including the July 18 attack on a party in the city of Torreón, which is near Gomez Palacio. In that incident, gunmen fired indiscriminately into a crowd of mostly young people in a rented hall, killing 17.
Police found more than 120 bullet casings at the scene, and Najera said tests matched those casings to four assault rifles assigned to guards at the prison.
Similar ballistics tests linked the guns to earlier killings at two bars in Torreón, the capital of northern Coahuila state, he said. At least 16 people were killed in those attacks on Feb. 1 and May 15, local media reported.
Najera blamed the killings on disputes between rival drug cartels. “Unfortunately, the criminals also carried out cowardly killings of innocent civilians, only to return to their cells,” he said.
Also Sunday, Mexican federal police announced the arrest of a man suspected of being a leading member of a drug gang blamed in recent killings and a car bombing in violence-ridden Juárez, across from El Paso.
Police described Luis Vazquez Barragan, 39, as a top member of La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Juárez cartel, saying he received orders directly from cartel boss Vicente Carrillo Fuentes. Vazquez Barragan organized payments, moved drugs and oversaw a system of safe houses in and around Juárez, police said.
They said he held the same rank as fugitive gang leader Juan Pablo Ledezma, though Vazquez Barragan is not named on reward or most wanted lists from the attorney general’s office, as Ledezma is.
La Linea has been blamed for a car bomb that killed three people July 15 in Juárez and for separate shootings March 13. One killed U.S. Consulate employee Lesley Enriquez and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, an officer at the El Paso County Jail. The husband of another consulate worker was killed in the other shooting.
Police did not say when they caught Vazquez Barragan.