Mexico birthday party massacre bears resemblance to Juarez killings

Gunmen killed at least 17 people Sunday in the city of Torreon. The Mexico birthday party massacre reminiscent of the killing of teens at a party in Cuidad Juarez in February. Has narco-terrorism arrived in Mexico?

Chairs and others items are seen scattered at a house where a birthday party was interrupted by gunmen early Sunday in the town of Torreon, Sunday.

At least 17 young people were killed at a private birthday party early Sunday morning in the city of Torreon in northern Coahuila state. It was one of the worst single attacks of its kind since Mexican President Felipe Calderón began cracking down on drug cartels upon taking office in Dec. 2006.

Investigators are still seeking a motive for the Mexico birthday attack, in which gunmen burst into private grounds and fired random shots at party-goers. But it appears to be part of a growing trend of targeting innocents with spectacular displays of firepower.

“They came in, opened fire, and shot against everything that moved,” an official at the state prosecutor's office in Coahuila told Reuters.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

Nearly 25,000 have been killed in drug-related violence since Dec. 2006, according to new government figures released Friday. The majority of the victims, the government has long reported, are drug traffickers themselves. The violence, it says, is a result of a crackdown that has seen groups splinter.

But the shooting Sunday is a reminder to many Mexicans that drug-fueled violence is ensnaring more than just those involved in the drug trade.

Ciudad Juarez massacre

In late January, more than a dozen teens were shot and killed at a party in a modest neighborhood at the edge of Ciudad Juarez, the troubled industrial city that sits across from El Paso, Texas.

The first – and, to date, only – public attack at a mass gathering in Mexico, came in September 2008, when a grenade was tossed into a plaza in Morelia in Michoacan state during independence celebrations. Since then, political aspirants have been killed, as were employees associated with the US consulate in Ciudad Juarez. Hitmen have fired on drug-rehabilitation centers and killed Mexicans fleeing checkpoints on the road.

Just last week, perpetrators feigning car trouble detonated 22 pounds of explosives with a cellphone in Ciudad Juarez, killing first responders at the scene.

Mexico's Attorney General Arturo Chavez denies that drug traffickers are targeting innocent civilians. He told reporters after the car bomb attack that there is “no evidence anywhere in the country of narco-terrorism.”

Narcoterrorism or not?

But after the news of the Coahuila massacre over the weekend, some are starting to press harder against that assertion. The headline for a column by Ricardo Aleman in El Universal Monday morning reads: “Car bomb and 17 massacred: If it is not terrorism, what is it?”

“Every day the violence is worse,” Mr. Aleman writes, with police, politicians, journalists, and innocent bystanders increasingly victims.

The government condemned the shooting in Coahuila. “[The government] emphatically rejects acts of barbarism that criminal organizations are carrying out to intimidate the public,” read a statement by Mexico's Interior Ministry.

It occurs as Coahuila has become a flashpoint in the drug war, as officials say the powerful Sinaloa cartel is fighting the Zetas for control of drug routes into the US.

Earlier in May, gunmen attacked a bar in the city of Torreon, leaving eight dead. The same night of the teen massacre in Ciudad Juarez, gunmen attacked a slew of bars in Torreon that left 10 dead.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war


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