CHIHUAHUA, Mexico – As many as three hundred heavily armed gunmen, some bearing Islamic State insignia, stormed a compound in the northern region of Chihuahua, Mexico last week in what Mexican authorities are calling “an act of terrorism.” Mexican Federal Police estimate upwards of two hundred people were killed, among them women and children. At least a dozen others are reported missing.
A journalist affiliated with Blog Del Narco, which chronicles the Mexican drug war, told the El Paso Times he witnessed six Toyota style pickup trucks, some with mounted machine guns, seal off a portion of Federal Highway 45 before occupants got out and began firing indiscriminately into traffic. The massacre lasted for a heart-pounding fifteen minutes and ended with twenty-six dead and at least sixty more who were wounded in the attack. According to one witness “there were bodies everywhere.”
Mexican Federal Police speculate the attack was meant to divert attention away from a larger strike that took place less than an hour later. Commissary General Mariano Lopez of the Federal Police, speaking with reporters Monday afternoon, said approximately sixty officers responded to reports of gunfire coming from a compound just two miles east of Federal Highway 45. The compound, which Mexican authorities say was a drug distribution center operated by Mexico’s largest and most dangerous criminal organization, the Sinaola cartel, had been under surveillance by the military in conjunction with the country’s anti-drug efforts.
Commissary General Lopez said during the press briefing that upon arrival police forces were met with heavy gunfire coming from inside the compound. “Initially we thought these are cartel members or Los Zetas trying to kill us,” he said. Federal Police sent in reinforcements including a tactical team on board two Black Hawk helicopters, one of which was shot down by what authorities believe was “a shoulder-fired rocket launcher.” Thirteen Federal Police Officers were killed in crash.
In what could be an embarrassing admission for the Federal Police, Commissary General Lopez told reporters, “We were completely overwhelmed.” Police were forced to retreat from the compound due to a lack of readily available resources in the area. Lopez explained that his agency is well equipped to take on drug traffickers, having received training from top law enforcement agencies in the United States, however “we do not have the resources to take on well-trained foreign fighters.”
Mexico’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto, has requested U.S. assistance in dealing with ISIS, saying in a televised address to the country, “We cannot meet this threat alone.” Meanwhile, President Obama pledged to beef up security and deploy additional National Guard units to the border.
In Ciudad Juarez, located eight miles south of El Paso, Texas, the streets were deserted Tuesday night. Juarez is a major trafficking point for illegal drug smugglers but there were virtually no signs of a cartel presence anywhere in the city. This reporter spoke with a local business owner who asked to remain anonymous out of fear for his life. “People are afraid to go out. My store has been closed for three days and we are waiting to see what the army will do.” Graffiti can be seen on several buildings and overpasses throughout Juarez, in both Arabic and Spanish, warning cartel members and residents alike to “join us or die.”
Federal Highway 45 intersects Cuidad Juarez before ending at the U.S.-Mexico border. The attack occurred roughly ninety miles south of Juarez.