Guards allowed Mexican prisoners out to act as hit men, authorities say


— Prison inmates allowed to leave their cells with weapons borrowed
from guards carried out last week’s killings of 17 people in northern Mexico, federal authorities said Sunday.

Ricardo Najera, spokesman for the
federal attorney general’s office, said prison officials in the
northern state of Durango lent the inmates weapons and official
vehicles to carry out several tit-for-tat killings on behalf of
organized crime.

The deadliest was the July 18 attack on a birthday party at an inn in Torreon, in neighboring Coahuila state. Gunmen sprayed gunfire at revelers who had been summoned by an invitation on Facebook.

Authorities have so far not specified a motive for the attack, which also left 18 people wounded.

Mexican prisons, overcrowded and poorly run, are
violent hotbeds of criminal activity, including telephone extortion
schemes and drug operations. Allowing inmates out to act as hit men
would mark a new extreme.

Najera said inmates from the same prison, in the Durango city of Gomez Palacio, are suspected in shooting attacks this year at a pair of bars in Torreon, which sits across the state line, that killed a total of 18 people.

Four prison officials, including the director, Margarita Rojas, and security chief were being held under a form of house arrest as the investigation continued.

“The criminals carried out the execution as part of
a settling of accounts against members of rival gangs tied to organized
crime,” Najera said during a news conference. He said “innocent
civilians” also were killed.

The inmates returned to their cells after the attacks, Najera said.

It was not immediately clear how many prisoners or guards were allegedly involved in the shootings.

Federal authorities said their investigation of
guards at the Durango prison had turned up four AR-15 rifles that
matched shells collected from the July 18 slayings.

The charges point to the staggering official corruption confronting Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s war on drug cartels.

The anti-crime campaign, launched in late 2006,
already is beset by widespread police graft, especially at the state
and local levels, where many officers moonlight as enforcers for
trafficking groups.

Mexico’s new interior minister, Francisco Blake,
said the episode was a reminder of the “state of deterioration”
afflicting many law-enforcement institutions at the local level.

Blake vowed that the investigation would seek to determine who gave the orders for “these cowardly and condemnable acts.”


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