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Gunmen kill 18 at rehab center

Violence linked to drug cartels’ use of clinic sites

Police officials stand guard in front of the  Aliviane drug rehabilitation center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Thursday.  (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Police officials stand guard in front of the Aliviane drug rehabilitation center in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, on Thursday. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Olivia Torres And Alicia A. Caldwell Associated Press

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – Neighbors mopped blood from the sidewalk outside a drug rehabilitation center Thursday, cleaning up the carnage after gunmen lined up patients against a wall and then riddled them with bullets, killing 18.

It was the third attack on a drug treatment center in Ciudad Juarez. Chihuahua state authorities said Thursday they were investigating reports that the centers have turned into hide-outs for drug smugglers being sought by police and hit men from rival gangs.

Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna, Mexico’s top law enforcement official, said rehab clinics were also being used as recruiting and training centers by drug cartels.

He told the Associated Press in an exclusive interview that a recently detained drug suspect belonging to the La Familia cartel oversaw various private, nonprofit drug rehab centers across western Michoacan state. The suspect, Rafael Cedeno, claimed to have trained 9,000 recruits for the cartel in 2008.

“We’re checking to see if there is a link with what we’ve found (in Michoacan),” Garcia Luna said.

Garcia Luna said in Michoacan, Cedeno’s rehab centers held retreats to train members, and if addicts did not cooperate, they were executed. He said the La Familia gang preferred recovered addicts because they were less likely to touch the drug loads.

Mexico’s burgeoning drug trade has fed a growing drug abuse problem, particularly in border cities where gangs have a heavy presence. Scores of rehabilitation centers have opened their doors in recent years, some out of the homes of recovered drug addicts with checkered pasts.

Most of the centers are not guarded or regulated.

Bloody footprints tracked from the door of the humble cinderblock Aliviane center remained on Thursday, as federal police and soldiers stood guard. El Paso can be seen just across the U.S. border.

At 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, about eight gunmen broke down a door at the center, lined their victims against a wall and shot them dead, authorities said.

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s deadliest city, has seen the worst of the nation’s drug violence with more than 1,300 deaths this year. The bloodshed has continued despite a buildup in troops since March.

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