EL PASO -- The Juarez drug murders are attracting attention not only for their numbers, but also for the increasing brutality with which they are being carried out.
Mutilations, beheadings, torching women's bodies, shooting children and suspending bodies from street overpasses are some of the ways armed criminal bands are terrorizing the border city.
Several experts weighed in on what may be happening and what could be done to end it.
"What Mexico is experiencing is narco terrorism," said Richard Valdemar, an international gang expert and retired California law enforcement officer.
"The battle between the cartels has become a terrorist war. We also have two gang cultures that have come together - -- the U.S. prison-based gang culture and an increasingly violent Mexican gang culture. Together, they are sinking to the lowest common denominator."
The kind of beheadings that are taking place in Mexico occurred among gangs in the Middle East for many years before they were seen in this part of the world. "In this hemisphere, we began to see this type of brutal violence in Colombia, and then it moved its way up north," he said.
Cartels recruit youths who believe they have nothing to lose, and therefore are willing to do anything for a chance at reaching the upper echelons of the cartels. Many of the suspects in Mexico's drug-related slayings are mere teenagers.
"There is so much money in drug-trafficking, and with the competition involved, there aren't any boundaries anymore," said Valdemar, who has been featured on TV specials about criminal gangs and the Mexican drug cartels. "We're also beginning to see an erosion in the codes of conduct of U.S.-based gangs, which used to be against attacking women and children."
He said youths must be given hope for the future if they are to stay away from violent gangs and drug cartels.
Ventura Perez, a professor of biological archaeology at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, said brutality accomplishes several things, one being the obliteration of the individuality of persons targeted for attack.
"With this gratuitous violence, the human being is lost. The victim ceases to be an individual, and becomes invisible," Perez said.
Despite the presence of thousands of soldiers, armed criminal bands still appear to control the Juarez region.
Recently, an armed group of men showed up at a community baseball game in the Valle de Juarez and shot to death several players in front of a shocked crowd. They left without police or the army intercepting them.
Sergio Gonzalez, a Mexico City author who has studied drug violence, said some hit squads send messages to rivals by writing notices on their victim's bodies, or by leaving banners near the bodies to make a point. Some groups also want to create a unique imprint or signature through decapitations and other mutilations.
His book released this year, "El Hombre Sin Cabeza" ( Man without a Head ), explores the symbolism of brutal drug cartel murders.
"Dismembered bodies, decapitations and mutilations serve to make it clear to rivals, the authorities and the general public that each criminal group is strong and can continue to operate without a problem," Gonzalez said. "Besides instilling terror, these acts also serve as ritual sacrifices for the groups to attain greater power and impunity."
Jose Rene Blanco, vicar general of the Juarez Catholic Diocese, created a stir earlier this month when he alleged in the press that the recent murders of children and women were the work of "narco satanicos," drug dealers who worship the devil and who used the deaths as human sacrifices.
Alfred Blumstein, a top criminologist in the nation, agreed the cartels' brutal crimes act as messages between rivals and as warnings for targets of revenge.
He said the notorious Italian Mafia gangs, which also made brutality one of their trademarks, differ from the way Mexican mafias operate. He also suggested that the drug cartels themselves may hold the solution for ending the violence.
"They are operating on a mutual deterrence basis, sending the others a message that they are each increasing the certainty and severity of their retaliatory strikes, hoping to scare their competitors out of the business," said Blumstein, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "My sense of the ( Italian ) Mafia gangs is that they too engaged in brutal killings, but much more at an individual level, one at a time, and not in the same mass-killing way.
"With the Mafia, it took some leadership by some key gang members to recognize that continuing the retaliatory activity was benefiting no one and hurting all, and so they called together a 'council' that would adjudicate disputes -- in effect, a court with agreed-upon rules serving the gangs just like a civilian court," Blumstein said. "It would seem most desirable for the Mexican gangs to find some leaders they all can trust willing to initiate such a process."