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Tijuana officials fear stepped-up drug war

TIJUANA, Mexico – The discoveries since Monday of five bodies, four of them decapitated, have shattered a period of relative calm and revived concerns that organized crime groups are escalating their battle to control this border city.

Two bodies were found Monday morning on a hillside, one with its head placed on its upper back. Three bodies were discovered Tuesday morning in an illegal dump. Their heads, charred from gasoline burns, were placed at their feet, according to the Baja California state attorney general’s office.

Authorities have not identified the victims in the attacks, which recalled the decapitations two years ago of three Rosarito Beach police officers. Authorities believe that the recent victims might have been associates of the reputed head of the Arellano Felix drug cartel, Fernando Sanchez Arellano, nicknamed El Ingeniero – The Engineer.

Printed on the shirtless victims’ backs was a message: “We are people of the weakened engineer.”

Violence had declined significantly in recent months, and many considered the slayings just another round of gangland disputes turned bloody. Alberto Capella Ibarra, Tijuana’s secretary of public security, diminished the significance of the killings, comparing them to Los Angeles-area gang murders that are barely noticed.

“The only difference here is how dramatic the deaths are,” Capella said in an interview in his downtown office.

But Capella and others conceded that the savage nature of the crimes could augur a deadlier phase in the drug war.

Once among the most powerful such groups in Mexico, the Arellano Felix drug cartel has been weakened in recent years by arrests and killings of its top bosses. Sanchez Arellano is said to have assumed control when his uncle, Francisco Javier Arellano Felix, was captured in 2006.

In April, a gunbattle between groups headed by Sanchez Arellano and a rival faction left 13 dead and appears to have split the cartel into two camps. The head of the rival group, Teodoro Garcia Simental, moved to Sinaloa, where he might have forged ties with a Sinaloa-based cartel, according to Mexican law enforcement sources.


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