After Short Respite, Drug Killings Surge In Juarez A killing spree has resumed in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's most violent city. A lull in murders followed after the Mexican army took over the city's police department two months ago. Now, there is a resurgence in executions — some in broad daylight, and at a pace far higher than a year ago.
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After Short Respite, Drug Killings Surge In Juarez

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After Short Respite, Drug Killings Surge In Juarez

After Short Respite, Drug Killings Surge In Juarez

After Short Respite, Drug Killings Surge In Juarez

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/104981339/105069679" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A Mexican soldier rides in the back of a police pickup in Ciudad Juarez. The Mexican army took over the Juarez Police Department in March after drug gangs ordered the police chief to quit. Soldiers now patrol the streets in convoys that include two or three local officers. Monica Ortiz for NPR hide caption

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Monica Ortiz for NPR

A Mexican soldier rides in the back of a police pickup in Ciudad Juarez. The Mexican army took over the Juarez Police Department in March after drug gangs ordered the police chief to quit. Soldiers now patrol the streets in convoys that include two or three local officers.

Monica Ortiz for NPR

A Mexican soldier and a Juarez police officer search two young men in a poor neighborhood of Juarez near the airport. The authorities are conducting random searches for drugs and weapons in Mexico's most deadly city. They found nothing on the men and quickly released them. Monica Ortiz for NPR hide caption

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Monica Ortiz for NPR

A Mexican soldier and a Juarez police officer search two young men in a poor neighborhood of Juarez near the airport. The authorities are conducting random searches for drugs and weapons in Mexico's most deadly city. They found nothing on the men and quickly released them.

Monica Ortiz for NPR

A Mexican soldier patrols the streets of Juarez. Monica Ortiz for NPR hide caption

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Monica Ortiz for NPR

A Mexican soldier patrols the streets of Juarez.

Monica Ortiz for NPR

At a roadblock at midnight on Friday night in Juarez, Mexican soldiers search vehicles for drugs, weapons and drunken drivers. Monica Ortiz for NPR hide caption

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Monica Ortiz for NPR

At a roadblock at midnight on Friday night in Juarez, Mexican soldiers search vehicles for drugs, weapons and drunken drivers.

Monica Ortiz for NPR

After a two-month lull, a killing spree has resumed in Mexico's most violent city, Ciudad Juarez, as two powerful cartels fight for control of drug trafficking routes into the U.S.

The Mexican army took over the border city's police department two months ago, deploying nearly 10,000 soldiers and federal police in an effort to suppress the drug-trade violence.

But executions have resumed in broad daylight at a pace far higher than a year ago.

"There's something much bigger in Juarez at the moment than either the army or the police can stop," says the Rev. Hector Villa, rector of a Roman Catholic seminary in Juarez.

"It's really sad that the city is being used as a battleground between the drug cartels," he says. "The city is trapped in the middle of a war."

Juarez, a city of more than 1.5 million people just across the border from El Paso, Texas, is under siege. Soldiers race through the streets in green pickups mounted with machine guns. Federal police in body armor patrol with automatic rifles. The military sets up roadblocks at random to search cars for drugs, weapons and kidnapping victims who could be hidden in the trunks of cars.

Gunmen with high-powered weapons are executing businessmen, police officers, lawyers and university professors in broad daylight.

Last week, Villa officiated at the funeral Mass for Oscar Urias Cantu, a prominent businessman, the brother of the city treasurer and the cousin of the publisher of the daily newspaper El Norte.

Villa cautioned the congregation not to assume — as many people in Mexico do — that murder victims are all somehow involved in organized crime.

Local news reports said Urias was killed after he refused to make extortion payments.

The Mexican army took over the city's police department in March after criminal gangs ordered the police chief to quit. Within days, the number of killings plummeted.

But those gains have been erased. In May, 124 people were murdered in Juarez, twice the number killed two months ago.

Last year, more than 1,600 people were killed in Juarez, giving it a per capita murder rate more than double that of any city in the U.S.

But the violence in Juarez is different in part because so much of it resembles military-style operations. This week, gunmen stormed into a drug rehabilitation center just before midnight, shot five patients in their beds and then disappeared back into the night. Earlier, a man, beaten, was found in the trunk of a car. A note on top of him warned that this is what happens to people who call the local equivalent of 911.

And as the military attacks the drug cartels, the cartels have been branching out into other criminal activity.

"It's obvious that the people who are used to living a certain lifestyle, they aren't going to all of a sudden turn honest," says Federico Ziga Martinez, who runs a catering business and heads the local restaurant association.

Ziga says Juarez has seen a huge rise in kidnapping and extortion recently. "This is precisely a result of the pressure the army is putting on the cartels," he says.

Ziga says numerous restaurant owners — terrified that they or their children will get kidnapped — have shut their doors and moved to El Paso.

Meanwhile, the funerals continue.

Last week, gunmen kidnapped a 46-year-old businessman in front of his wife. Family members paid a ransom, but still his body was dumped in the street a day later.