CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) - Gunmen have killed six U.S. citizens in separate attacks since Saturday in the violent border city of Ciudad Juarez, the U.S. consulate said on Thursday, as Mexico struggles to halt surging murders.
University of Texas students Manuel Acosta and Eder Diaz, who studied at the El Paso campus just across the border from Ciudad Juarez, became the latest victims when they were gunned down as they drove through the city on Tuesday.
The slayings followed the deaths of four Americans, including a woman who died of multiple gunshot wounds inside a tortilla shop on Saturday.
Two other U.S. citizens died on Saturday in a hail of gunshots aimed at their car.
“Police said shooters fired 50 rounds, ... peppering the black BMW with bullets,” the consulate said in a statement.
On Sunday a U.S. citizen was killed along with two Mexican men when gunmen opened fire on a group standing outside a house. It was not clear why the Americans were targeted.
Such killings are becoming more common even though most American tourists have stayed away from Ciudad Juarez since drug violence surged in January 2008. Since then, more than 7,000 people have died in and around this manufacturing city engulfed in criminal anarchy.
“A lot of the kids tell us that they don’t go over (to Ciudad Juarez) anymore. But many folks along the border have families, grandmas,” said Mary Ellen Hernandez, director of the Rio Grande Safe Communities Coalition, an El Paso-based nonprofit that promotes safety among college-age youths.
At least 37 U.S. citizens have died violently in Ciudad Juarez since January, compared to 39 in 2008 and 2009 combined, according to U.S. government data.
Mexico President Felipe Calderon, who launched a war on drug cartels in late 2006, faces his toughest test in Ciudad Juarez, where 7,500 troops and elite police have failed to end beheadings and car bombings.
In one of the worst attacks against Americans, U.S. consular employee Lesley Enriquez and her husband were shot and killed in Ciudad Juarez as they left a children’s party in March. U.S. President Barack Obama expressed outrage at the shooting.
October was the deadliest month in the city’s history, with 350 people killed, including 14 people at a birthday party. The drug war death toll across Mexico now stands at more than 31,000 since December 2006.
A war over trafficking routes between local cartel boss Vicente Carrillo and Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, who heads the Sinaloa cartel, has fueled hopelessness in Ciudad Juarez despite the government’s efforts to rebuild schools and parks.
For lack of a better future, jobless youths join gangs and wade into countless battles over protection rackets, drug sales, smuggling and kidnapping.
Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor in Phoenix; Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Xavier Briand