Originally published October 25, 2010 at 7:37 a.m., updated October 25, 2010 at 10:17 p.m.
TIJUANA, Mexico Baja California Attorney General Rommel Moreno says last week's historic marijuana seizure by Tijuana police is the principal line of investigation in the murder of 13 men at a Tijuana drug-rehabilitation center on Sunday evening. Moreno's comments came during a radio interview broadcast nationally in Mexico on Radio Formula.
Gunmen burst into the center on the city’s east side at about 8:30 p.m. Tijuana police say the four shooters escaped. The dead are all men between the ages of 19 and 56.
Cartel killers hit a handful of drug-rehabilitation centers last year hundreds of miles east, in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, but this is new for Tijuana.
Baja California's Moreno says the attack was accompanied by a series of alarming threats, that cracked across the police-radio frequency, warning that killers would pick off one person per ton of marijuana seized. There were 134 tons.
"We're trying to keep people in the city calm," said Moreno. "Some of the victims had checked into the drug-rehab center just three days earlier. We're looking into that, because it could help us understand if people are pretending to be addicts and using rehab centers as a kind of cover," said Moreno.
After gunmen attacked Ciudad Juarez rehab centers in 2009, Mexico's public-safety secretary said drug cartels were using the centers as recruiting and training grounds.
Spectacular killings in Tijuana had dissipated in recent months after authorities arrested two high-ranking drug-gang assassins. Drug-related murders, though on par to beat last year's total, had largely been banished to the city's outskirts.
Two weeks ago, Mexico President Felipe Calderon touted Tijuana as a success in his four-year-old drug war. His praise came during his inaugural address at a $5 million conference designed to help Tijuana regain international respect and show that security is not the city's sole focus anymore.
A few days later, however, two headless bodies were found hanging from a bridge; a human head was found a few blocks from one of the city’s newspapers; and another headless body fell into traffic from the overpass where it had been hanging.
Authorities in Tijuana characterize these episodes as hiccups, contending that they continue to make progress in controlling organized crime.
Last week's marijuana seizure was a major success. It was the biggest drug seizure in Mexico's history and it was spearheaded by Tijuana police, who Mexican authorities say in the past would let some criminals go for the right price. However, criminal groups often retaliate after such a severe blow.
Meanwhile, Baja California's Secretary of Health, José Bustamante Moreno, says the Tijuana drug-rehabilitation center where the 13 bodies were found on Sunday night was not authorized to operate.
The center was registered with the state in 2004, however.
Bustamante says there are 167 drug rehab facilities in Baja California which treat more than 9,200 people.