Mexico nabs suspected killer of 17 rehab patients

Sat Sep 5, 2009 4:32pm EDT

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MEXICO CITY, Sept 5 (Reuters) - Troops captured the suspected killer of 17 patients at a rehabilitation clinic in northern Mexico, one of the deadliest attacks in President Felipe Calderon's three-year war against drug cartels, local media said on Saturday.

The suspect, Jose Rodolfo Escajeda, is considered one of the bloodiest hitmen in the crime-ridden state of Chihuahua and a leader of the powerful Juarez Cartel. He is on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's most-wanted list for marijuana and cocaine smuggling into the United States.

About a dozen hooded men burst into a clinic in the violence-plagued industrial city of Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, on Wednesday, lined up patients and killed 17 of them.

Turf wars and targeted attacks by drug trafficking gangs have killed more than 13,000 people across Mexico since Calderon took power in late 2006 and launched his drug war, a level of violence that has alarmed Washington and unnerved both tourists and investors.

Drug gangs have targeted rehab centers in the past, accusing them of protecting dealers from rival groups.

Escajeda is also believed to be behind the killing earlier this year of two American members of a Mormon community in northern Mexico who were brutally murdered for denouncing cartel kidnappings, Mexico City's Daily Excelsior newspaper reported on its website.

Benjamin LeBaron, a breakaway Mormon leader and anti-crime activist, was abducted from his house and killed by around 20 gunmen in revenge for helping track and arrest a group of drug gang members. His brother-in-law was also killed in the July attack.

Calderon has deployed thousands of troops and federal police against drug cartels across the country but drug killings are at record levels. Some 10,000 soldiers patrol Ciudad Juarez alone, but crime remains out of control. (Reporting by Cyntia Barrera Diaz; Editing by Eric Walsh)






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