Inmates flee prison in Mexico; bomb targets police

MONTERREY, Mexico, (Reuters) – More than 140 inmates  escaped via the main entrance of a prison near the U.S. border  yesterday in the biggest Mexican jailbreak since the government  began its war on drugs four years ago.  

Hours later, suspected hitmen blew up a car outside a  police station near the business hub of Monterrey in the latest  act of brinkmanship between drug gangs and officials.  

In a brazen move underscoring Mexico’s weak prison system,  inmates slowly filed out of the main vehicle entrance of a  prison in Nuevo Laredo across from Texas early on Friday, two  police sources in northern Tamaulipas state said.  

Later yesterday in the small town of Zuazua on the northern  outskirts of Monterrey, an SUV exploded, injuring two people  and knocking out power. It was the first such explosion near  Mexico’s richest city, a business center with close U.S. ties.  

While authorities declined to say if the two incidents were  linked, Zuazua lies on the highway between Monterrey and Nuevo  Laredo and the area has become a major flashpoint in the drug  war since early this year, when a cartel split into rival  factions.  

The blast shattered windows and destroyed a car parked  nearby but its impact was limited. The crumpled remains of the  bombed vehicle were just visible from behind a police cordon. 
 
Jorge Domene, a spokesman for Nuevo Leon state that  includes Zuazua and Monterrey, blamed organized crime and said  the explosion was aimed at intimidating police. “It is obvious  this is a message to the authorities,” he told Milenio TV. 
 
Several national media received letters signed by drug  gangs that promised more attacks using cars stuffed with  explosives, national newspaper Reforma reported online.  

Nuevo Leon and the neighboring state of Tamaulipas are  often caught in a wider cartel war across Mexico over smuggling  routes into the United States and local criminal rackets. The  war has killed more than 30,000 people since late 2006,  according to official figures. Media reports put the sum at  more than 33,000.  

In a new tactic, suspected drug hitmen began detonating  cars this year, first in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s deadliest city  across from El Paso, Texas, in July and then in Ciudad Victoria  in Tamaulipas in August.
  
Mounting insecurity in Mexico is a threat to Latin  America’s No. 2 economy as investors question the safety of  doing business. The violence is also a worry for Washington.  U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned in September  that Mexico was starting to resemble Colombia at the height of  its cocaine-fueled insurgency in the 1980s and 1990s.  

 ‘VERY SEVERE COLLUSION’   In Nuevo Laredo, soldiers and federal police surrounded the  prison. Tamaulipas’ security chief Antonio Garza told local  radio that the jail’s director was reported as missing along  with 141 inmates. He confirmed the vehicle entrance was used as  the escape route and blamed prison guards for complicity. 
 
“I am sure that inside (the prison) there was very severe  collusion (between guards and drug gangs),” he said. The head  of the state’s jail system was also suspended pending  investigation, Garza added. 
 
It was not immediately clear who was behind the prison  break, but police sources said the Gulf cartel may have offered  to free Zeta gang members, their former allies, on condition  that they switch sides.
The escape follows a string of breaches across northern  Mexico, underscoring the challenges that President Felipe  Calderon faces as he battles powerful drug cartels.
  
Authorities have arrested or killed at least seven top drug  cartel leaders in the last year, but have not succeeded in  shutting down the gangs.  

Calderon, who sent thousands of troops across the country  to fight drug gangs, has vowed to clean up prisons that in the  past have allowed drug lords to live in luxury or escape when  they please. But the conservative leader has struggled to  contain corruption and lawlessness in the prison system, which  is run partly by state and local governments.   In September, 85 prisoners escaped from a prison in the  nearby border city of Reynosa. Authorities discovered in July  that prison officials had allowed convicts out of a prison in  northwestern Durango state to carry out revenge attacks before  returning to cells for the night.

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