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State Department warns against travel to Mexico

Chelsea Schilling

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Deadliest drug zone invites Americans to tour 'land of encounters'

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State Department warns against travel to Mexico

Deadliest drug zone invites Americans to tour 'land of encounters'

Posted: October 15, 2008

12:15 am Eastern

By Chelsea Schilling

© 2008 WorldNetDaily

Ciudad Juarez. in Mexican state of Chihuahua (courtesy: Greater Works)

More than 1,100 people have been slaughtered in a bloodbath of drug-related violence in one city just south of the U.S.-Mexico border this year – that's nearly four victims each day – and some say it is just part of a large crisis that will soon spill over the border.

The U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory for Americans who visit Mexico, citing Ciudad Juarez as a hotbed of criminal activity. A large Mexican metropolis in Chihuahua state bordering El Paso, Texas, Juarez is Mexico's deadliest narcotics-war zone with two criminal gangs fighting for power – over city streets and drug-smuggling routes into the U.S.

The State Department is warning U.S. citizens of escalating crime along the border, stating that 1,600 cars were stolen in Juarez in July alone. Public shootouts, muggings, murders and bank robberies are rampant, and Mexican criminals harass U.S. travelers along border regions.

"Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have taken on the characteristics of small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and, on occasion, grenades," according to the State Department. "Firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico but particularly in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. The situation in northern Mexico remains fluid; the location and timing of future armed engagements cannot be predicted."

Mexican criminals are said to be armed with sophisticated weapons, often wearing police or military uniforms and driving government vehicles. Many people – including U.S. citizens – are being kidnapped and held for ransom or killed across Mexico.

Decapitation, torture, human 'soup'

Gang-related violence has killed an estimated 5,000 people since President Felipe Calderon ordered police and 3,600 soldiers to crack down on drug cartels in December 2006.

On Saturday gunmen killed six men at a family party in Ciudad Juarez, the Associated Press reported. In just the last three days, 23 people have been killed in northern Mexico. Also, 12 were killed in Baja California, including two adults and two children who were gunned down in spray of bullets from an AK-47 assault rifle.

Another 11 homicides were reported earlier this month after masked attackers dressed as police opened fire in a bar. A U.S. citizen was shot in Juarez Monday. He and another female victim, 19, of an unrelated Juarez shooting were brought to an El Paso hospital for medical attention. Among Monday killings was a double homicide inside a home, while another man was found shot to death in the same city Tuesday evening.

In a similar wave of violence this month, 54 people were killed within one week in Tijuana. Twelve bodies were dumped outside an elementary school and some had their tongues removed, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Other bodies were decapitated, cut up or wrapped in blankets and tossed along roadsides. Police also discovered a barrel filled with acid containing human remains and a note threatening to make "soup" of gang rivals.

Also this month, a group of drug hitmen killed five people, including two cops, at a car stereo and alarm shop. Shortly afterward, men shot two Chihuahua state police officers in Juarez with assault rifles. Seventy-one bullet casings were found at the scene. The killers had a wreath delivered to police headquarters with a threatening note identifying the victims and a third name of another officer. A young girl, 12, was shot by hitmen in June, and a Juarez police commander was gunned down in an ambush of 50 bullets. Many of the murders took place in broad daylight.

The violence is not aimed only at drug cartels. A new Discovery production titled "Silence in Juarez" details historical accounts of abductions and murder in the city. The program reveals 400 women have been tortured and raped in Juarez since 1993, and more than 1,000 have gone missing.

U.S. Border Patrol, media assaulted

Law-abiding authorities sometimes quit their positions when their lives and families are threatened by hit men. In a city plagued by corruption and bribery, and with so many criminals disguising themselves as police and soldiers, officials often have difficulty differentiating between legitimate and crooked authorities.

In August, WND reported four Mexican soldiers held a U.S. Border Patrol agent at gunpoint after crossing a barbed-wire fence into U.S. territory. The Mexican government claims its soldiers were simply lost despite the agent's repeated attempts to identify himself in both English and Spanish.

The Santa Fe bridge connects Ciudad Juarez and El Paso (courtesy: Texas A&M University)

There have been dozens of other incursions by Mexican police and soldiers into the U.S. WND reported an investigation by Judicial Watch that documented 29 confirmed incidents along the U.S.-Mexican border involving Mexican military and/or law enforcement personnel in fiscal year 2007.

The report lists incidents such as the one at the Fort Hancock Station in El Paso:

"[Troopers] attempted to apprehend three vehicles believed to be smuggling contraband on I-10 … As the vehicles approached the border, [troopers] stated that a Mexican Military Humvee armed with a .50 caliber weapon and several soldiers were seen assisting smugglers return to Mexico … Officers then noticed several armed subjects dressed in fatigue type clothing unload the contraband into the Humvee. These subjects set fire to the stalled vehicle before leaving the area."

Increasingly, border agents are coming under assault. The Texas Legislature, fearing violence spillover as the drug war worsens, allocated $110 million to beef up Border Patrol in the area.

Members of the media have come under attack as well. Reporters Without Borders stated 95 attacks on journalists in Mexico have taken place since the beginning of this year, including threats, assaults, kidnappings and murders. Newspapers and other media outlets have begun censoring their coverage and running stories without reporters' names to avoid retaliation.

Mexican hitmen entering U.S.

In August, Mexican cartels threatened to send hitmen into the U.S.

"We received credible information that drug cartels in Mexico have given permission to hit targets on the U.S. side of the border," El Paso police spokesman Officer Chris Mears told Fox News.

In June, six Mexican men in police tactical clothing shot a man to death in a drug-cartel hit, firing more than 100 rounds into his Phoenix home. The assailants were said to be wielding AR-15 assault weapons and wearing full body armor and black assault gear similar to uniforms worn by Phoenix police tactical teams.

Worst 'yet to come'

Spillover is imminent because cartels employ people from both Mexico and the U.S., border anthropologist and drug-traffic expert Howard Campbell told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

"At some point, the Mexican cartel people may decide, what do they have to fear, really?" Campbell said. "A lot is their own perception that they can't get away with this stuff in the U.S. But sadly, I think they could. My sources in Juarez are saying the worst of the violence is yet to come."

Meanwhile, Mexican officials have launched a desperate campaign to draw American tourists back into Juarez after many have decided to stay away from the region, the Associated Press reports. Billboards now tout the city as the "land of encounters."