(Bloomberg) -- A prison dispute between rival gangs spiraled out of control in Mexico on Thursday, leading to street violence in Ciudad Juarez and the deaths of 11 people, including civilians.
Four local radio employees outside a Little Caesars were shot and killed, according to Reforma newspaper, which also reported shots fired at a Circle K and Molotov cocktails thrown at an Oxxo convenience store in the city that neighbors El Paso, Texas.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Friday condemned the violence. It is the second time this week that criminal groups traditionally associated with the drug trade have paralyzed Mexican cities by turning their firepower on civilians and businesses.
“It wasn’t just an attack between two different groups,” Lopez Obrador said at a press conference. “It reached the point where they started shooting at civilians, at innocent people. That’s the saddest part of this situation.”
Among those killed were a worker at an Oxxo and an individual who had come seeking work, according to a statement from Fomento Economico Mexicano SAB, which owns the chain. One of its stores was set on fire and another shot at, according to the statement. Mexico’s business coordinating council, the CCE, on Friday demanded authorities act quickly to guarantee safety.
The attacks follow similar clashes on Tuesday in the central state of Guanajuato, where cartel members torched 25 Oxxo stores. On Tuesday night in the city of Guadalajara, buses and cars were set ablaze to block major roadways around the city.
Read More: Narcos Set Fire to 25 Femsa Convenience Stores in Mexico
Lopez Obrador’s government has come under criticism for its attempts to handle Mexico’s criminal actors, such as its release of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s son in 2019 following unrest in Sinaloa after his capture, and for the country’s persistently high homicide rate. But it has also deployed thousands of members of the National Guard across the country, giving the public the sense that the streets remain militarized.
Ciudad Juarez has for years been among the cities with the highest homicide rates in Mexico. But the series of murders that started Thursday, with the death of two in a local prison, is unprecedented in recent times and left residents hiding in their homes.
Officials detained members of the Mexicles gang -- which had been involved in the prison fight Thursday -- for their alleged involvement in the crimes in the city, Mexico’s Deputy Minister of Public Security Ricardo Mejia said on Friday.
Jeremy Slack, an associate professor of geography at the University of Texas-El Paso who has written about drug violence, said the strategy appears to be intended to strong-arm officials and police.
“Targeting civilians as a way to coerce the government has in the last few years become more explicitly in-built to this negotiation that is really about corruption,” Slack said. “This is very much someone making the decision: we want to do these crimes and we’re going to keep doing these crimes until you give us something.”
(Update with CCE statement in fifth, context in seventh, academic comment in ninth.)
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