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Web Extra: Deadly Shootout Another Battle in Tijuana Drug War

Audio

Aired 4/19/09

Click "Listen" to hear Amy Isackson's report.

A bloody gun fight in Tijuana early Saturday morning was one of the deadliest incidents in years along the U.S.-Mexico border. Fifteen people were killed and nine injured. It's the latest battle in a long-running drug war raging in Mexico. KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson covered the story from Tijuana over the weekend.

Isackson says the shootout began in the wee hours of Saturday morning along Bulevar Insurgentes, one of the main thoroughfares of eastern Tijuana.

Gunmen ambushed a group of men in parked cars on the side of the road. Police found seven bodies in and around the cars.

Then there were two other shootouts around town, one of them about 10 miles away, at a hospital. Two more people died.

Tijuana authorities say eight people have been arrested so far.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon has been struggling to crack down on drug trafficking, especially in the border region. That crackdown is putting pressure on cartels in Tijuana, which has opened a power vacuum in the Arellano-Felix cartel. Some high-ranking members have been arrested. For survival, the cartel has splintered into small, warring factions. This weekend's shootout could be due to an internal fight between rivals in the same cartel.

Adding even more fuel to the fire, cartels from outside Tijuana have pounced on the Arellanos because they’re weaker. The groups are duking it out for control of the key drug smuggling routes between California and Mexico.

Meanwhile, Tijuana and Baja California have new leadership. The army general in charge of the president's crackdown has said Baja police are corrupt. The state's attorney general asked the general to prove it -- and that he did, naming 40 people in an unprecedented letter to newspapers.

It's not clear if the letter prompted the shootout, but it has made the situation in Tijuana more volatile.

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