Ten minutes before gunmen attacked the "El Castillo" sports bar in Ciudad Juarez this past Thursday night, Federal Police (PF) officers warned the owner to close his business or suffer extreme consequences. “Les iban hacer un desmadre” is what the witnesses heard who gave statements to the Mexican media on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution.
After the time elapsed, a group of armed men entered the establishment firing indiscriminately and murdering 10 of the remaining clientele and employees.
At least one witness stated that the time between the exit of the Federal Police and the attack was as little as three minutes.
Witnesses also stated that Federal Police agents also set up a perimeter around the crime scene while the attack was still in progress.
Several online forum comments published on news sites and citizen’s forums stated that the murders at the “El Castillo” and the Molotov cocktail attack that resulted in 5 deaths at the “Las Barritas” bar and grill Friday evening were perpetrated by Artistas Asesinos gangsters, who are affiliated with the Sinaloa cartel, in an operation to close “narcotiendas” where La Linea drug dealers sold drugs to locals.
The Federal Police, who nevertheless were the first authorities to arrive at the crime scene after the attack, are also accused of looting the belongings of the dead victims and bar items such as flat screen televisions. “They took the phones and money from the dead, they took the cars that were parked outside, they stole the televisions that belonged to the bar,” said one of the witnesses who requested anonymity.
Interviews with witnesses who were at the scene established that a Federal Police unit arrived at the bar at 9:00pm to conduct a weapons and controlled substance check but found nothing irregular and minutes later left the scene, located at the intersection of Ramon Rayon and Benito Juárez in the Zaragoza neighborhood.
Before leaving, said the witnesses, the officer who apparently was leading the unit issued the threat, telling the manager to close the bar or “les iban a hacer un desmadre”.
After the attackers arrived and began firing, several witnesses who escaped the bar ran from the scene and said they encountered several units of the Federal Police in the immediate area allegedly manning vehicle checkpoints.
"If local police heard the shooting and rushed to the scene, how is it that the federales who were there didn’t hear anything. They acted dumb and only reacted after the thugs finished and left,” said a resident of the area who said he was extremely frightened by what happened.
Asked about the allegations, the federal agency spokesman, Jose Ramon Salinas Frías, stressed that "the institution can not issue any statement based on rumors." He noted that the Chihuahua State Attorney General's Office (Fiscalía General del Estado) is leading the investigation into the killings, so he was not in position to issue statements on the matter.
The witnesses and sources within the Municipal Police force (SSPM) stated that when local police responded to the attack they were barred from approaching the crime scene by federal agents and that a confrontation ensued between both forces.
The sources within the Municipal Public Security Secretariat (SSPM) added that there is constant friction caused by the attitude shown by Federal units.
Even the emergency medical responders arrived to help the injured were stopped by the Federal unit and could not enter the perimeter with the immediacy that the emergency required.
It was only after local police escorted emergency personnel through the perimeter that they were able to conduct their work.
The Municipal Police sources added that several confrontations have already occurred with the Federal Police in similar situations because they are not allowed near the scenes of killings immediately.
State Ministerial Police investigative agents were also denied entry to the crime scene until the Federals gave the green light, which occurred about an hour after the attack.
According to the state investigative agents at the crime scene the site had been tampered with complicating the documenting and removal of evidence. “They took empty cartridges, manipulated bodies to extract their belongings, and left a mess at the site,” said a state government agent who had access to the site.
Although the legitimacy of these witness statements and media stories are hard to prove, the abuses of authorities from all three levels of government are well documented.
Just within the last 2 days, reporters for the respected Juarez newspaper “El Diario de Juarez”, one of the few news outlets located on the Mexican side of the border region that still reports extensively on the drug war violence, were abused and threatened by Federal Police agents while reporting at the scene of two murders.
In what is now common folklore in Chihuahua, the corrupt elements within the Federal Police are loyal to the Sinaloa cartel and its affiliated groups such as la Gente Nueva, and corrupt elements within the state and municipal forces answer to Vicente Carrillo Fuentes and the Juarez Cartel and its enforcers, La Linea.
The mutiny of a Federal police unit in Juarez last year against its commanders saw both sides level charges of corruption, drug dealing, kidnappings and even homicides against each other. Regardless of fault it was an extreme display of non-existent leadership and unit discipline.
Nor is this the first incident of its kind where the Federal authorities are accused of complicity or at the very least negligence in crimes against the civilian population of Ciudad Juarez.
Immediately after the gunmen left the site of the massacre of 15 people, mostly youths, at a birthday party in a residence in Juarez last October, the survivors and neighbors reported a vehicle of Federal Police passed in front of the attacked residence and failed to respond to their screams for help.
According to the witnesses Federal Police arrived half an hour later.
In his article describing the growing violence in Juarez within the context of Mexico’s drug war for the December 2009 issue of The Atlantic Magazine, respected author and journalist, Phillip Caputo, a former Marine officer and Vietnam veteran, describes the thinning of the space between the “good” and “bad” forces in Mexico’s drug war thru a study of the violence in Chihuahua.
In a description of an attack by masked gunmen on a drug rehab center in Juarez in 2008 that resulted in 8 murders and was at that time an unspeakable crime, but which now in 2011 would simply be just another of so many mass homicides that have become numbingly routine, Caputo describes the possible involvement of Federal forces in the attack.
In this case the Mexican military was suspected of involvement by observers of what transpired.
[Outside, a Ford pickup carrying a detachment of Mexican paratroopers was parked at an intersection no more than 50 yards away. Two other trucks pulled up in front of the rehab center. Eight men armed with assault rifles and 9-millimeter pistols and wearing bulletproof vests and ski masks piled out of the vehicles and rushed inside.
The shooting started in the patio, just as the patients were walking up to the podium in answer to García’s call. Some flung themselves to the floor, others ran for their lives or huddled against a wall. García stood at the podium, crying out, “Muchachos! Ask God for another chance to live!” At that moment, four gunmen burst inside and, in her words, started “shooting in all directions.” ………..
Neighbors called the Emergency Response Center, the equivalent of 911, but got no response. Accounts of the actions taken by the soldiers parked at the street corner differ. According to one, the soldiers stood by passively as the assassins jumped in their trucks and fled. According to another, they drove past the rehab center at high speed while the massacre was going on. People shouted to them to put a stop to it, but the soldiers kept going. This led one of the neighbors to conclude that they “were guarding the killers or came with them so that the police would not intervene.”]
This Saturday 160 Federal Police officers arrived in Ciudad Juarez to replace an equal number of officers being rotated out. It is a given that regardless of whether or not the Federal authorities are involved, the killings in Juarez will continue.
Increible, Federales cuidaron sicarios en bar: testigos
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Federales prepararon el bar “el Castillo” para la massacre: testigo
The fall of Mexico