Video: ‘War next door’ is closer than you think

  1. Transcript of: ‘War next door’ is closer than you think

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: his continuing series of reports about THE WAR NEXT DOOR , NBC 's Mark Potter has the story of an American city that finds itself under siege as a crossroads in this bloody drug trade .

    MARK POTTER reporting: A few weeks ago when Mexican authorities arrested "La Barbie," the reputed drug kingpin feared for his viciousness, right away officials in Atlanta said they wanted the first crack at putting him on trial because Atlanta is where La Barbie is already charged with distributing tons of cocaine.

    Mr. DANNY PORTER (Gwinnett County District Attorney): It's possible that there are more drugs that have come through Gwinnett County and Atlanta than ever came through Miami during the -- during the '80s, during the time of the " Miami Vice " idea.

    POTTER: Drug agents say Mexican cartels, which are fighting a brutal war south of the border , have now penetrated 270 US cities . But it is Atlanta that is their major smuggling hub, with hundreds of Mexican traffickers operating there. In this neighborhood near Atlanta with its well-kept homes and quiet streets, US drug agents make a shocking discovery. In a basement, a kidnapped drug dealer chained and beaten by members of a Mexican drug cartel .

    Mr. RODNEY BENSON (Atlanta DEA Special Agent in Charge): Look around. Quiet, tree-lined street, you know, hardworking people here going to work every day, raising families, and next door you have members of the Gulf Cartel torturing somebody for not paying on a drug shipment.

    POTTER: Hardest hit is Gwinnett County , northeast of Atlanta . Because of its large Hispanic population, authorities say, Mexican traffickers easily blend in. The reason the Mexican traffickers are so attracted to the Atlanta area is the same reason many legitimate corporations are here. The web of interstate highways going in and out makes Atlanta the Southeast 's most important transportation hub . Mexicans smuggling drugs across the US border truck their loads to Atlanta for repackaging before driving them north to cities along the Eastern Seaboard .

    Mr. BENSON: We'll see that load of drugs in a tractor trailer arrive at the truck stop, be escorted typically to a warehouse. As you can see, there's a sea of warehouses out there.

    POTTER: Authorities first realized they had a big problem nine years ago when a George state patrol car was rammed by Mexican smugglers guarding a drug shipment. In this Gwinnett County home, agents found a huge Mexican methamphetamine lab. And down this dirt road, hidden from the street, they found another house with millions of dollars in Mexican drug cash. But it's the soaring amount of Mexican heroin and other drugs flooding the streets that has Mary Rieser , director of Georgia 's Narconon Treatment Center , fearing what she calls death by injection.

    Ms. MARY RIESER: There's a syringe instead of a gun, but people are definitely dying at this end of the war on drugs or the Mexican cartel.

    POTTER: Mexican traffickers now firmly entrenched across America among unsuspecting neighbors.

By
updated 10/25/2010 7:52:52 AM ET 2010-10-25T11:52:52

A client at a drug rehab center in the Mexican border city of Tijuana said Monday that a gang of armed men burst into the building and gunned down 13 recovering addicts there.

Prosecutors have not yet confirmed the number of dead. Police at the scene say at least 10 were killed.

The witness, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Jesus, for fear of reprisals, said he was attending a movie showing on the first floor of the center, and had stepped out for something to eat when the attack occurred late Sunday.

When he returned, his fellow clients told him the attackers made the addicts lie on the floor, and then sprayed them with bullets. Other clients sleeping upstairs in the center also survived. There are normally about 45 clients at the center.

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The attack on the ramshackle, privately run center is the first such mass killing at a rehab center in Tijuana, a city praised by some for its anti-gang efforts.

Several such attacks have killed dozens of recovering addicts in another border city, Ciudad Juarez, and a voice was heard over a police radio frequency later saying "this is a taste of Juarez."

While police have not identified the motive in the Tijuana slayings, drug gangs have attacked such centers before to target rival gang members .

In Ciudad Juarez, prosecutors' spokesman Arturo Sandoval said three municipal police officers were found shot to death outside their patrol vehicle on Sunday.

And in the southern Pacific coast state of Guerrero on Sunday, state police found the bound, executed bodies of six men on a highway outside the resort city of Acapulco.

Blindfolded
The men had been blindfolded, their hands and feet bound, and shot to death with assault rifles, the state Public Safety Department reported.

The killers left three handwritten messages with bodies, a tactic frequently employed by Mexico's drug gangs to threaten their rivals or authorities, but police routinely do not reveal the contents of such messages.

Nationwide, more than 28,000 people have been killed in drug gang violence since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon deployed soldiers to battle the cartels in their strongholds in northern Mexico and along the Pacific coast.

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While the government says most of the dead were involved in the drug trade, innocent bystanders have also died, like three people killed in the crossfire of a shootout between gunmen, police and soldiers in northern Coahuila state Sunday.

The victims were a 14-year-old boy and two women aged 18 and 47, according to a statement by the state prosecutors' office.

The statement said gunmen traveling in two vehicles opened fire on a convoy of federal police officers and soldiers in the city of Saltillo, Coahuila. The officers and soldiers returned fire.

It was not clear who fired the shots that killed the bystanders, but the state attorney general's office said it was investigating and expressed condolences to the victims' families.

Video: Cartels ‘make al-Qaida look tame’ (on this page)

Birthday party massacre
"They are civilians who unfortunately died in the exchange of gunfire," it said, describing a running series of confrontations between police and assailants who allegedly fired shots into the air to clear bystanders from their path at one point.

In Ciudad Juarez, meanwhile, the death toll from a birthday party massacre late Friday rose to 14 when an 18-year-old man died of his wounds.

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Nineteen people were wounded in the attack on two private homes where about four dozen partygoers had gathered for a teenager's birthday.

The dead identified so far were 13 to 32 years old, and the majority of the victims were high school students, a survivor said.

While investigators said they have not yet identified the perpetrators or a motive, police found 70 bullet casings from assault weapons typically used by drug gangs at the scene of the shootings. Cartel violence has killed more than 2,000 people so far this year in the city, which is across from El Paso, Texas.

Drug gangs have increasingly attacked private parties they believe members of rival gangs might be attending; innocent partygoers are often killed in such attacks.

On Sunday, prosecutors in northern Chihuahua state, where Ciudad Juarez is located, said they were searching for a man known only by his nickname, "The Mouse," who was apparently the target of the gunmen.

The man was reportedly wounded in the Friday shooting, but has disappeared. Investigators said they believe he can provide information on who was trying to kill him.

Memorial services were held Sunday for some of the victims of Friday's attack, and prosecutors said guards had been provided to protect the services.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Mexico Under Siege

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  1. A tattooed man stands on a hill overlooking Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, one of the most dangerous cities in the world, on Dec. 20, 2008. Cartels have launched a wave of violence against the government of President Felipe Calderon since it began a crackdown on organized crime in 2006. According to the attorney general’s office there were 5,370 drug-related homicides in the year to Dec. 2, 2008. That is double the 2007 number. Juarez alone saw an estimated 1,600 such slayings. And the deaths can be horrific – victims have been tortured, beheaded or dissolved in acid. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Inside the car where Marisela Granados de Molinar was killed on Dec. 3 alongside her boss, Jesus Martin Huerta Hiedra, a deputy prosecutor in the Mexican city of Juarez. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Federal police search cars at an impromptu checkpoint near the U.S. border on Nov. 10, 2008. In the late 1980s the United States stemmed the flow of cocaine from South America through the traditional trade routes in the Caribbean. Looking for alternate ways into the U.S., South American cartels began to run drugs through Central America and Mexico, and now the vast majority of illegal drugs flow through this corridor. Facing the recent slew of deaths and corruption scandals among all levels of the police, the government has deployed 45,000 soldiers to fight the cartels as well. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Missing person signs litter the walls of local police stations in Juarez. Kidnapping is integral to the drug-running business and the general lawlessness accompanying it. Before the latest surge in drug violence, Juarez was infamous for another gruesome string of crimes – the kidnapping and murder of young women. There have been 508 such incidents since 1993, according to the state government. When the bodies do show up, many have been raped and mutilated. Many believe that most of these deaths are related to gang initiation rituals. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. El Diario newspaper's Armando Rodriquez was murdered outside his home while warming up his car on Nov. 13, 2008. The 40-year-old crime reporter was killed in front of his 8-year-old daughter who he was about to drive to school. Mexico is one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Since 2000, 25 have been killed there. In addition, seven journalists have disappeared since 2005. Many reporters refuse to put their bylines on stories, and many newspapers have stopped covering the drug gangs altogether. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The body of El Diario's Rodriquez -- killed in his car outside his house while his family watched in November 2008 -- is taken away in a body bag by an ambulance. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. A U.S. official stands beside a recently discovered cache of drugs on the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border crossing. In December, the United States delivered $197 million to Mexico, the first stage of a $400-million package to buy high-tech surveillance aircraft, airport inspection equipment, and case-tracking software to help police share intelligence. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Men and boys shoot heroin in a "picadero," or shooting gallery, in Ciudad Juarez on the banks of the Rio Grande, just across from the United States. Thousands of picaderos, some serving as many as 100 customers a day, are said to exist in Juarez alone. Drug use and addiction among Mexicans has exploded recently, with the number of known addicts almost doubling to 307,000 in six years. Most experts assume these numbers dramatically undercount the problem. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Patrons and workers mingle at Hollywood strip club in downtown Juarez. With American sex tourism on the decline due to the dramatic increase in murder and violence, the few remaining strip clubs have become common hangouts for narcotics traffickers, or ‘narcos.’ (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A man walks in front of 24-hour funeral parlor. The death industry is booming in Juarez where an estimated 1,600 people were murdered in 2008. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Neighbors and family of slain Alberto Rodriquez, 28, watch and cry as the authorities descend on the crime scene. Rodriguez was killed in his car outside his house while his family watched. (Shaul Schwarz) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A bus carrying women and children drives by the site where David Rodriguez Gardea, 42, and Antonio Bustillos Fierro, 38, were gunned down on Nov. 12, 2008. The agents had led an investigation resulting in the arrests of gang members suspected in dozens of murders. The cartels are killing police officers at an unprecedented rate, especially at the border. Gangs have been breaking into police radio frequencies to issue death threats. "You're next, bastard ... We're going to get you," an unidentified drug gang member said over the police radio in the city of Tijuana after naming a policeman, Reuters reported recently. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. A U.S. border patrol officer stands behind bullet-scared bullet-proof glass on the El Paso-Ciudad Juarez border. Although border agents do not get shot at often they are self-described "sitting ducks." The cartels and drug traffickers send messages of terror through such examples. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The casket of David Miranda Ramirez, 36, is carried by fellow police at his funeral on Nov. 13, 2008. An estimated 50 of Ciudad Juarez’s police officers were killed in 2008 in incidents blamed on drug gangs. Many officers have quit out of fear for their lives, often after their names have appeared on hit lists left in public. While some police have been killed, others are being lured into cooperating with the cartels. Theses gangs have “enormous economic power, and behind that, enormous power to corrupt and intimidate,” says Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Family of slain police officer Miranda Ramirez mourn his loss at his funeral. (Shaul Schwarz / Reportage by Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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Interactive: Mexico's drug-trafficking landscape

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