The Federal Police arrested four Sinaloa cartel gunmen who allegedly killed 55 people in Chihuahua, a state in northern Mexico, the Public Safety Secretariat said.
The suspects, who also face arms and burglary charges, were arrested Monday in Ciudad Juarez, a border city in Chihuahua considered Mexico’s murder capital, the secretariat said.
Police received an emergency call that “armed people were breaking into a house” in the Pradera del Pacifico neighborhood in Ciudad Juarez, located across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, the secretariat said.
The four suspects were arrested when they tried to get into a vehicle with New Mexico tags.
Federal Police officers found two handguns, 30 rounds of ammunition and two ammunition clips inside the vehicle.
Jesus Eduardo Martinez Alvarado, 25, Luis Miguel Barrios Velazquez, 28, Oscar Adrian Martinez Martinez, 21, and Tomas Fernandez Fernandez, 23, were arrested in the operation.
“The investigation has determined that these people are linked to the criminal group known as Artistas Asesinos, or AA, which works for the Sinaloa cartel,” the Public Safety Secretariat said.
Martinez Alvarado has a criminal record dating back to 2003, with previous arrests for burglary and homicide, and the four suspects “may be linked to at least 55 homicides committed between July 2009 and this month in Chihuahua state,” the secretariat said.
The suspects were taken to the Attorney General’s Office in Mexico City.
The Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels, backed by hitmen from local street gangs, have been fighting for control of smuggling routes around Ciudad Juarez.
The Sinaloa cartel has an armed wing known as the Gente Nueva, which employs hitmen from the Los Artistas Asesinos and Los Mexicles gangs, while the Juarez cartel uses La Linea, a gang with ties to the Los Aztecas gang, as enforcers.
Press reports say the Sinaloa organization, Mexico’s oldest and largest drug cartel, has effectively taken control of Juarez.
Ciudad Juarez, where more than 5,000 people have been murdered since 2008, has been plagued by drug-related violence for years.
The murder rate took off in the border city of 1.5 million people in 2007, when 310 people were killed, then it more than tripled to 1,607 in 2008, according to state AG’s office figures, with the number of killings climbing to 2,635 last year.
Ciudad Juarez, with 191 homicides per 100,000 residents, was the most violent city in the world in 2009, registering a higher murder rate than San Pedro Sula, San Salvador, Caracas and Guatemala, two Mexican non-governmental organizations said in a report released earlier this year.
The death toll for this year in Juarez currently stands at more than 1,400.
Drug-related killings, according to Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office figures, totaled 227 in January, 163 in February, 240 in March, 205 in April, 253 in May and 303 in June.