Fed up with plague of kidnappings, Mexicans turn to mob justice

In the latest example of vigilantism in Mexico, townspeople near Ciudad Juarez killed two suspected kidnappers Tuesday.

A mob in the Mexican border state of Chihuahua killed two suspected kidnappers in the country's latest bout of vigilante justice.

Townspeople in Ascencion, about 100 miles from troubled Ciudad Juarez, blocked federal police Tuesday from rescuing two men accused of kidnapping who were being beaten by the crowd. The mob shouted and held up signs calling for an end to the kidnappings that have plagued the area.

Photos of the incident show the military surrounding a patrol car that held the wounded suspects as hundreds of people blocked the vehicle from moving. The men reportedly died inside the car as a result of their injuries.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

This is not the first instance of mob justice in Mexico, a country where drug-related crime continues to escalate and frustrations are mounting over the police's inability to thwart the violence.

On Monday, police in the state of Mexico rescued an alleged house burglar who was captured and beaten by a crowd. In February, hundreds of Oaxaca taxi drivers beat and set fire to an alleged car thief. And, in 2004, three undercover federal agents mistaken for kidnappers were burned alive in a rural community within Mexico City.

These incidents usually take place in small towns with little police presence and where public distrust of authorities runs high, says Javier Oliva, a security expert at Mexico’s National Autonomous University. While lynching has not necessarily increased with the wave of drug violence sweeping the nation, it may do so if law enforcement does not crackdown more effectively on kidnappers, he says.

“[Kidnapping] has been one of the least punished crimes,” says Mr. Oliva. “The law is very ambiguous. If someone has participated in an abduction, carrying it out in their car, for example, they won’t necessarily be implicated in a trial.”

A new antikidnapping bill that could pass as early as this week would increase prison sentences, erase the statute of limitations for the crime, and punish accomplices, Oliva says.

Abductions officially rose 15 percent this year, although experts say that figure is highly inaccurate, as most kidnap victims do not report the crime. Some lawmakers say kidnapping has tripled in the past five years.

"The people have grown tired of all of this. Kidnappings have struck hard in this town," says Hector Romo, an Ascencion municipal police commander.

During Tuesday's attack, the crowd pelted Mr. Romo's car with stones and he was forced to turn away from the mob, which he says grew into the thousands. "There was no way to control them, there were too many people."

Romo says the suspected kidnappers attempted to escape but their vehicle turned over after a car chase with the Mexican Army. The Army apprehended three other suspects in a separate vehicle. Townspeople grabbed the two of the suspects, who were in their late teens, as they ran for the mountains. Police reportedly rescued the kidnapping victim, a girl in her late teens.

The mob killings took place days after another public display of mistrust in the authorities to handle the rising bloodshed, albeit a nonviolent display.

On Sunday, Ciudad Juarez’s El Diario newspaper published an editorial asking drug cartels to decide what the prominent daily should publish in exchange for a halt to violence against the paper’s journalists. Two El Diario journalists have been killed in the last two years – most recently a photographer – and targeting of journalists who cover the drug war has been widespread.

“We ask you to explain what you want from us, what we should try to publish or not publish, so we know what to expect,” the editorial states, referring to the warring cartels that have overrun Juarez as “the de facto authorities in this city.”

"The legally instated officials have not been able to do anything," the editorial adds.

The missive set off a storm of criticism, in some cases against the Calderon administration, and in others directed at a newspaper that appeared to be publicly negotiating with crime syndicates.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

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