NUEVO LAREDO, Tamaulipas – In less than six hours, this raucous border town saw the execution of a convict, a prison riot, the deadly ambush of a Mexican police officer, and a fiery shootout that ended just yards from the U.S. border and sent bystanders scrambling for cover behind telephone poles and concrete walls.
By the time it was over, two people were dead and seven injured, local authorities said.
“It’s not every day that you face enemy fire from the other side of the border,” said Laredo police Officer Octaviano “Tony” RodrÃguez, clutching a .45-caliber pistol after a gunbattle erupted near Laredo’s International Bridge No. 1.
Already this year, at least 250 people have been killed in drugrelated violence along the border, including 27 in Nuevo Laredo, the federal Attorney General’s Office (PGR) says. Drug gangs are fighting for control of the sprawling city of more than 400,000, a gateway to Interstate-35, often used to transport illicit shipments to Dallas and beyond, authorities say.
About 8 p.m. Tuesday, gunmen inside a state prison in Nuevo Laredo executed convicted trafficker Omar Ortega, 45, local authorities said. He had been playing tennis when he was shot in the head, said a city official. Additional details were not available.
Rioting broke out after the attack, and four people were injured. More than 200 state and federal police officers were sent in to restore order, said Rafael GarcÃa, a Nuevo Laredo city official.
In a second, unrelated incident early Wednesday, four assailants ambushed and killed Nuevo Laredo Police Officer SerafÃn Cruz, police said. The assailants tried to escape across the bridge into Laredo, but Mexican police killed one and shot and captured three others.
“These men, in their goal to escape Mexican justice, tried to cross into the United States and with the help of U.S. agents we were able to detain them,” GarcÃa said. “Fortunately we had enough cooperation from both sides of the border to resolve this without more violence.” “I ran into the bathroom and hid when I saw the shooting start,” said Mario HernÃ¡ndez, 24, a cashier at a 24-hour money exchange house in Nuevo Laredo. “It was crazy.” Authorities said the police officer’s killing was linked to an ongoing turf war between alleged trafficker Joaquin “El Chapo” GuzmÃ¡n and the Zetas, a group of ex-soldiers and others loyal to accused trafficker Osiel CÃ¡rdenas, now awaiting extradition to the United States.
“The battle continues to escalate with no truce in sight,” a U.S. informant said on condition of anonymity. “It’s the battle for control of the border.” “What’s clear is that these guys aren’t thinking anymore,” added RodrÃguez, a nine-year Laredo police veteran. “Tell President Bush we need better weapons to protect our border.” Laredo police shut down the city’s International Bridge No. 1 for nearly three hours after the gunbattle broke out at 1:05 a.m., sending late-night partiers from both countries scrambling for cover behind telephone poles and concrete walls.
“This is no way to bring back tourists,” said Armando Carrizales, 24, a Nuevo Laredo cabdriver who saw the gunfight. “This isn’t relaxing for anyone.” Not all visitors seemed to mind the violence.
“It was bam-bam-bam,” said Scott Marty, 41, a visitor from Wisconsin who ducked for cover after emerging from a club in Nuevo Laredo. “Would I come back? Yeah, sure. I go to Jamaica, and they shoot people there all the time. Travel’s an adventure.” Police didn’t take the incident lightly.
“This was really scary,” Laredo Officer Juan Jose Rubio said. “You see it on TV, but you never expect it to happen in your own hometown, right on the international bridge. It doesn’t get closer than this.”