A lunchtime blast that killed one person and injured two on a main street near a tourist district has shocked residents of the Mexican capital, which has so far largely avoided the drug violence raging in the rest of the country.
City and federal officials say the homemade bomb, which exploded two blocks from a Mexico City police compound Friday afternoon, was likely the work of organized crime rather than leftist rebels.
The country has suffered from a wave of shootouts, grenade attacks and execution-style killings that left more than 2,500 dead nationwide last year. But authorities say Mexico City traditionally has been more of a meeting place for traffickers looking to close drug deals than a base for their operations.
"It's scary to think that criminals can do whatever they want," 55-year-old electrician Apolinar Valadez said Saturday. "The narcos already think they own the country, and now they want to own the city."
Cell phone triggered blast
Investigators believe the explosive was detonated remotely by a cell phone, Police Chief Joel Ortega said on Friday.
Injuries to the dead man, who has not been identified, indicate he was carrying the bomb in his right hand, Ortega added. Investigators have yet to question an injured woman identified as 22-year-old Tania Vazquez, whom police say knew the dead man, and are investigating whether they may have played a role in the blast.
Vazquez, who suffered serious burns, remained at a hospital Saturday in stable condition under police guard. The daily El Universal reported that police arrested two men at her home in the Tepito neighborhood late Friday.
A 29-year-old apparent bystander, who suffered minor injuries, was also questioned by police, Ortega said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the bomb, which contained gunpowder, pieces of metal and pellets. Small rebel groups that have set off explosives outside banks and blown up petroleum pipelines tend to issue warnings, which didn't come in Friday's blast.
‘Extraordinarily vulnerable’ city
Mexico City has recently seen an increase in drug arrests and weapons seizures, including the detention last week of seven alleged highly armed members of the Sinaloa drug cartel. Last month, another 11 alleged hit men for the gang were arrested at two mansions that authorities say were the first cartel safe houses discovered in Mexico City.
The explosion could be part of a resulting escalation in drug-related violence in the capital, said George Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William & Mary in Virginia.
"Mexico City is an extraordinarily vulnerable venue," Grayson said. Cartels "are going to react when the government attempts to crack down on them, and that's probably why the explosion occurred."
In January, Mexico's top drug prosecutor said he had been targeted for assassination by three men captured in Mexico City with assault rifles and grenade launchers.
And the previous month, police said five killings were the result of a drug bust at the capital's international airport. The heads of two of the victims were found in Mexico City, their bodies in neighboring Mexico state.
Navy Secretary Mariano Francisco Saynez told reporters Saturday the explosion seemed to be an isolated incident and city authorities had not requested military help in patrolling the capital.
Since taking office a year ago, President Felipe Calderon has sent thousands of troops and federal agents into states throughout Mexico to combat drug gangs battling for territory and for control over corrupt local police forces.