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Crime and Punishment

John Simkin

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One of the worst stories I have read for a long time.


Hundreds of federal agents stormed a town on the outskirts of Mexico City last night after two undercover police officers were attacked and their bodies burned by a crowd who mistook them for kidnappers thought to be preying on a local school.

About 500 police sealed off the streets and broke down doors in the search for the leaders of the mob.

The lynching, which was filmed and broadcast on national TV, is the latest example of vigilante assaults by Mexicans frustrated by soaring crime rates and corruption among police.

Several hundred people were involved in the attack. A third officer was rescued and taken to hospital in a serious condition.

The grim events took place in the semi-rural outskirts of the capital on Tuesday night and were broadcast in graphic detail on the early morning news programmes yesterday.

"It all got out of control," a resident, Martha Patricia Lopez, told reporters. "But we were just trying to defend our children."

Mexican police are notoriously corrupt and officers are periodically linked to kidnapping gangs, but in this case there appears little doubt that the three agents were on an undercover operation to crack down on serious crime.

The federal police chief, José Luis Figueroa, said the agents were surveying a house thought to be a hub for small-scale drug trafficking in the village of San Juan Ixtlayopan on the south-eastern edge of the Mexican capital. Police had received dozens of calls about the house and about child-stealing in the area.

Víctor Mireles, 39, Cristóbal Bonilla, 27, and Edgar Moreno, 26, were inside their car photographing the house when rumours spread that two girls had been kidnapped from the primary school on the same road.

Residents were later unable to give details to reporters about the children abducted, raising the suspicion that the story was started by traffickers seeking to protect their patch.

The gathering crowd pulled the officers from their car, stripped them of their guns and greeted their police identification cards as further incriminating evidence.

The local police received reports of what was going on but only arrived in the village after several hours. The press, meanwhile, was out in force.

The images broadcast later showed mostly young men, but also some women, pounding and kicking their victims on the ground as others looked on cheering.

During a lull in the beating TV reporters interviewed the agents, their disfigured faces streaming with blood.

Mr Moreno, the only survivor, made a mobile phone call on camera to police headquarters, as one of the mob held him in a neck lock with his head pulled back by the hair. "Please, we need help," he said.

Officers Mireles and Bonilla lost consciousness, were doused in petrol and set alight. It is not clear whether they were already dead.

Half-naked and covered in blood, Officer Moreno was dragged through the village and tied to the bandstand in the central plaza. Reports differ as to whether the villagers intended to burn or hang him.

Hundreds of riot police arrived, rescued the officer and occupied the village, which is now the centre of a double murder inquiry.

And recriminations between different levels of authority began. Mr Figueroa said his federal police corps was less to blame for not rescuing its agents than the local city police.

The city police chief, Damián Canales, told a local radio station that he had been held up by "very bad traffic" on his way to the village. He avoided answering a question about why he did not use a helicopter.

There have been several cases of lynchings in Mexico in recent years. Some took place in isolated rural areas, but most were on the edge of the capital, where frustration is particularly great over the soaring crime rate and inadequate or corrupt police responses.

Few people have been arrested for these murders, let alone convicted.

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