Mexico sends 200 troops to US border after prison attack that left 26 dead and 25 fugitives

The Ministry of Defense of Mexico announced on Tuesday (3) the deployment of 200 soldiers to Ciudad Juárez, on the border with the United States, to combat organized crime. The deployment of the military comes two days after an armed attack on a penitentiary in the same city that resulted in 26 deaths and facilitated the escape of dozens of detainees —25 are still at large.

The invasion took place on Sunday morning (1st), when family members of the detainees were waiting in line for visits. A group of armed men arrived at the Cereso 3 prison aboard armored vehicles and opened fire on the unit’s guards. The attack was also the trigger for a rebellion inside the prison and created panic in the population of the region.

According to the public prosecutor of the state of Chihuahua, the situation was only brought under control five hours after the attack. When federal authorities arrived to help restore order, they found a sort of “VIP zone” in the prison, where inmates had access to drugs and cash. Alejandro Alvarado Téllez, director of Cereso 3, has been removed from his post and is being investigated for possible links to the attack.

Also on Sunday, 19 people died — ten unit guards, seven detainees and two gunmen. Another seven deaths were confirmed in operations to search for the fugitives in Ciudad Juárez: five suspects who allegedly shot at police vehicles and two employees of the State Investigation Agency.

According to a statement from the MP, the five suspects killed were wearing bulletproof vests, helmets and other tactical equipment. Four long guns were seized. It is not clear the relationship between this group and what attacked the penitentiary. According to Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval, five criminals were recaptured.

Among the fugitives is the head of a group allied with the Ciudad Juárez cartel in its war against the Sinaloa cartel, previously led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, sentenced to life imprisonment in the US.

This is Ernesto Alfredo Piñón, known as “El Neto”. He had been in prison since 2009, and the following year he was sentenced to more than 200 years for kidnapping and murder. A group of criminals had already tried to free Piñón shortly after his capture, but without success.

On Tuesday, relatives of prisoners lined up outside the prison. Heard by the Reuters news agency, they report a lack of information on the part of local authorities.

Ciudad Juárez is about three kilometers from El Paso, in the US state of Texas, and is therefore considered a crucial point for drug trafficking both to Mexico and the US – and was once seen as one of the most violent of the world.

Sunday’s attack was one of the country’s biggest episodes of prison violence in recent years. The same Cereso 3 was the scene in 2009 of a dispute between rival groups that left 20 dead. A report by the State Human Rights Commission released in February last year counted more than 3,700 detainees in the unit, which has a capacity for 3,135.