MEXICO CITY, (Reuters) – Drug hitmen stormed a birthday party and killed 17 people in the northern Mexican city of Torreon yesterday in one of the deadliest attacks in Mexico’s drug war that came days after a lethal car bomb.
Gunmen in five SUVs drove up to the party in a walled patio and garden on the outskirts of the city in Coahuila state across from Texas, smashed down the door and opened fire with automatic rifles on party-goers who were dancing to live music at about 1 a.m/0500 GMT, Coahuila’s prosecutor’s office said.
“They came in, opened fire and shot against everything that moved,” said an official at the prosecutor’s office who declined to be identified. “Without saying a word to anyone, they shot at them and fled,” the office said in a statement.
Photos showed blood-stained floor tiles, overturned chairs and musical instruments by a beer tent abandoned as the people in their 20s and 30s ran in panic. One of those killed was a man celebrating his birthday, prosecutors said.
The attack underscored the challenges facing President Felipe Calderon’s new interior minister, who took up his job this week facing criticism that he lacked experience to deal with drug cartels.
The prosecutor’s office in Coahuila said 18 people were injured in the attack and taken to a Torreon hospital, where weeping family members waited for news. The party garden was strewn with more than 100 bullet casings, it said in its statement. No arrests have been made.
Mexico’s attorney general’s office immediately took over the investigation into the killings and blamed organized crime for the attack, state news agency Notimex said.
The early morning shooting comes after a drug gang detonated a car bomb in Ciudad Juarez late on Thursday, killing four people in the first attack of its kind in Mexico’s drug war.
Ciudad Juarez’s main daily, El Diario, reported yesterday that U.S. agents from the Federal Bureau of Inves-tigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were in the city to investigate the car bomb attack. U.S and Mexi-can officials declined to comment.
Federal police blamed La Linea, the armed wing of the powerful Juarez cartel, for the car bomb and Mexico’s security ministry said it was retaliation for the arrest this week of a cartel member.
In Torreon, it was not clear which cartel was responsible for the attack but the area, a key transit point along smuggling routes into the United States, is being fought over by the Sinaloa cartel led by Mexico’s most-wanted man, Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, and the Zetas gang from northeastern Mexico.
Once quiet northern industrial cities such as Torreon and nearby Monterrey have seen a surge in drug killings in the past six months as the Zetas fight the Sinaloans and the Gulf cartel that controls much of the smuggling routes into Texas.
More than 26,000 people have died in drug violence across Mexico since Calderon took office and launched a crackdown on cartels in Dec 2006. Escalating violence is worrying Washington and investors in the oil-producing country once known for its political stability next door to the United States.