At least 17 dead, gang leader freed in Mexican prison attack

Border Report

Mexican National Guard stand guard outside a state prison in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Sunday Jan 1, 2023. Mexican soldiers and state police regained control of a state prison in Ciudad Juarez across the border from El Paso, Texas after violence broke out early Sunday, according to state officials. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)

YUMA, Ariz. (NewsNation) — More than two dozen convicted criminals, including a cartel kingpin, are on the run Tuesday after a brazen prison attack that appeared designed to free the leader of a local gang left at least 17 dead in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juarez.

In addition to those killed, 13 people were wounded.

Security Secretary Rosa Icela Rodríguez identified the inmates who escaped as being with the Mexicles gang, which she associated with the Caborca Cartel. She said the Mexicles’ leader was among the fugitives. The Mexicles have been one of Juarez’s main gangs for decades and were known to work with the Sinaloa Cartel for many years.

Sources told NewsNation the incident was a rescue mission to get a gang leader with ties to El Chapo’s Sinaloa Cartel out of prison. The Chihuahua State Secretary of Security and Citizen Protection said among the 27 inmates that escaped was Ernesto “El Neto” Pinon — the leader of the notorious street gang The Mexicles, who was serving a 224-year sentence for murder. The U.S. State Attorney General’s Office said gunmen opened fire around 7 a.m. Sunday on guards at the Cereso Prison — sparking a riot that took 7 hours to get under control.

Rodríguez said 10 of the dead were Cereso Prison guards who were attacked by gunmen who arrived early Sunday in armored vehicles and fired on the entrance and inside dormitories.

The Border Patrol said it’s in defense mode and in contact with Mexican authorities as the escapees may try to cross into the U.S. illegally.

The incident comes as El Paso, just across the canal, is still recovering from an immigration spike last month.

The vice president of the National Border Patrol Council fears the escapees could capitalize on the porous border. Some local authorities are now demanding the state prosecutor step down following the events at the prison.

Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval said the soldiers and state police who retook control of the prison found 10 “VIP” cells outfitted with televisions and other comforts. One even had a safe filled with cash. Ten semi-automatic firearms and a weapon that fires grenades were also found within prison walls.

Authorities also found cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, fentanyl and marijuana inside the prison, which is considered to be one of Latin America’s most dangerous institutions — housing more than 3,900 inmates.

Sandoval said two other gunmen killed after attacking local police a short time before the attack on the prison were likely a diversion. They were not included in the 17 dead, comprised of 10 guards and seven inmates.

In August, a riot inside the same state prison spread to the streets of Juarez in violence that left 11 people dead.

In that case, two inmates were killed inside the prison and then alleged gang members started shooting up the town, including killing four employees of a radio station who were doing a promotion at a restaurant.

Violence is frequent in Mexican prisons, including in some where authorities only maintain nominal control. Clashes regularly erupt among inmates of rival gangs, which in places like Juarez serve as proxies for drug cartels.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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