Mex­i­can in­mates blamed in hits

Pris­on­ers were given guards’ guns and sent out to kill, of­fi­cials say

Austin American-Statesman - - MONDAYBRIEFING - Marco Ugarte By Mark Steven­son

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.

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