Ex-prosecutor's kidnapped brother shown on video

AP News
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Posted: Oct 25, 2010 10:45 PM
Ex-prosecutor's kidnapped brother shown on video

A video posted online Monday shows the kidnapped brother of a former Mexican state attorney general saying at gunpoint that he and his sister worked for a drug gang.

In the border city of Tijuana meanwhile, gunmen burst into a drug rehab center and killed 13 recovering addicts, according to police in the city, which officials had been portraying as an example of success in the war against drug gang terror.

The video posted on Youtube was the boldest example yet of a tactic that has become increasingly common in Mexico's brutal drug war: cartels kidnapping police, officials and regular citizens and releasing video clips of the captives admitting to crimes, including government corruption. It is often impossible to verify the accuracy of the admissions made under extreme pressure.

The release of the clip also adds to drug gang pressure on public officials in Mexico, following a string of slayings of mayors, senior police officers and a gubernatorial candidate.

The video, which was removed from Youtube within hours, shows attorney Mario Gonzalez sitting in a chair, handcuffed and surrounded by five masked men pointing guns at him.

Gonzalez is the brother of Patricia Gonzalez, who stepped down Oct. 3 as attorney general of the border state of Chihuahua when a new governor took office. Mario Gonzalez was kidnapped Thursday from his office.

Chihuahua state government officials confirmed the man in the video was Mario Gonzalez, but they refused to comment on the credibility of the words he spoke at gunpoint _ which included blaming his sister for several notorious killings in the state _ and suggested the allegations might be investigated.

"We cannot give an opinion on the veracity or falseness of the information in the video," said Graciela Ortiz, the Chihuahua interior secretary.

"What's important," she added, "is that citizens can be sure the state will act objectively and impartially to apply the full weight of the law against anyone responsible for a crime, regardless if they are ex-officials or of the position that they held."

An aide to Patricia Gonzalez did not reply to several phone calls seeking comment, but in the past, she has denied rumors that she protected drug traffickers. She is not known to be under formal investigation for any crime.

In brief interview with El Diario de Juarez newspaper, Patricia Gonzalez lashed out at the news media for its coverage of the video.

"I think this is the worst injustice you could have done to me, the worst thing you could have done. How can you be saying these things about me?" she was quoted as saying in the newspaper's online edition.

The newspaper said Gonzalez hung up abruptly and then turned off her phone.

Gonzalez was attorney general during the most violent peacetime period in the history of Chihuahua state. A nearly three-year-old turf war between the Juarez and Sinaloa drug cartels has made Chihuahua the deadliest state in Mexico, and the border city of Ciudad Juarez one of the world's most dangerous cities.

In the video, Mario Gonzalez, answering questions posed by a man off camera, says his sister protected La Linea, a street gang tied to the Juarez cartel, and that he acted as the liaison between the gang and attorney general's office, collecting payoffs.

The questioner also prompted Mario Gonzalez into saying that his sister ordered several killings in Ciudad Juarez, where drug-gang violence has claimed more than 6,500 lives over the past three years. Among those, he said, was the 2008 killing of Armando Rodriguez, a crime reporter for El Diario de Juarez.

The 10-minute video ends without any word on Gonzalez's fate. No group has claimed responsibility for his kidnapping and officials said they have no word on his whereabouts.

The Juarez and Sinaloa cartels have each claimed _ through videos, graffiti and messages left on bodies _ that the other receives government protection. Generally, the Juarez cartel alleges that the Sinaloa gang is protected by the federal government, while the Sinaloa cartel says its rival is supported by local and state officials.

While police and other officials have been arrested for drug ties, both state and federal officials deny protecting any cartel and often point to the fact that members of all factions have been arrested.

Several Mexican cartels have released chilling videos of forced confessions, although none had targeted officials as high-ranking as Patricia Gonzalez.

In July, a video showed masked members of the Zetas drug gang interrogating a police officer who said that inmates in a prison in northern Durango state allied with the Sinaloa cartel were given guns and cars and allowed out of jail to commit murders. At the end of the video the officer was shot to death.

The prison director was arrested after it appeared.

In Ciudad Juarez last week, a video circulated of a woman in her 20s confessing at gunpoint to extorting several businesses on behalf of La Linea. The woman had been found shot to death on a Ciudad Juarez street two weeks before the video emerged, a flower placed on her back.

In Tijuana, meanwhile, prosecutors said they were investigating whether the massacre Sunday night of 13 recovering addicts at a drug rehab center was related to authorities' seizure last week of nearly 135 metric tons of marijuana.

Shortly after the attack, a voice was heard over a police radio frequency threatening that there would be as many as 135 killings in Tijuana _ a possible reference to the record marijuana seizure.

Baja California state Attorney General Rommel Moreno said attack on the rehab center also might have stemmed from a dispute between rival drug-dealing gangs but that investigators were looking into a possible connection with the seizure.

State prosecutors said the killings were carried out by three masked assailants and a fourth man who remained outside. They used assault rifles to kill the center's clients.

Dr. Anibal Sanchez, the head of the city medical examiner's office, said his team had not yet been able to perform autopsies on the victims because the city morgue is operating in improvised quarters without enough space while the regular morgue is being remodeled.

The attack on the ramshackle, privately run center in Tijuana is the first such mass killing at a rehab center in the city.

Several such attacks have killed dozens of recovering addicts in Ciudad Juarez, and the voice on the police radio frequency was also heard saying "this is a taste of Juarez."

Just two weeks ago, President Felipe Calderon touted Tijuana as a success story in his nearly four-year-old drug war, noting during a festival to promote the city's industries that homicides are down from a peak in 2008.

Since his visit, drug gangs have resumed gruesome tactics not seen in the Tijuana for months, beheading rivals and hanging bodies from bridges. Some residents have expressed fear that the cartels are deliberating intensifying the violence to undermine Calderon's message.

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Associated Press writers Mariana Martinez in Tijuana and E. Eduardo Castillo in Mexico City contributed to this report.