In June 2010, 20 gunmen burst into a drug rehab center in Chihuahua City and killed 19 residents. A year later, 13 people were slain in an attack on a drug and alcohol rehab center in Torreón, Coahuila.
In September 2017, another 17 people were shot and killed at a rehab center in Chihuahua city. And last Saturday, gunmen opened fire on a drug and alcohol rehab center in Irapuato, Guanajuato, leaving 10 people dead.
These are just a few of a large number of attacks on drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers that have resulted in the deaths of scores if not hundreds of people in Mexico over a period going back more than a decade.
But why are such centers targeted? There are a few reasons but one of the main ones is that some rehab centers double as safe houses for crime and drug gangs.
According to a report by the newspaper El Diario de Chihuahua, four rehab centers that were attacked in Chihuahua city between 2009 and 2017 were “strategic refuges” for local gangs such as the Mexicles, the Artistas Asesinos and the Aztecas.
“They used them as barricades but addicts that weren’t related to those groups also attended” in order to “keep the authorities away,” the report said.
However, when rival gangs caught wind that their adversaries were hiding out and planning their criminal activities behind the walls of supposed rehab centers, violent attacks ensued. The 2011 attack in Torreón also targeted a center where criminals were hiding out and storing stolen and illicit goods.
If a few bona fide, unaffiliated junkies are collateral damage in the rehab center cum-safe house attacks, then so be it – that appears to be the philosophy of the gangs that have carried them out.
Some gangs have also carried out attacks that have targeted ex-members who checked themselves in as a way of leaving their criminal lives behind. Others are a form of intimidation whose aim is to recruit new gang members among rehab center residents, the newspaper El País said in a 2012 report.
Saturday’s attack in Irapuato, and three previous attacks on rehab centers in the same city, are possibly linked to a vicious turf war in Guanajuato between the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG) and the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel.
Witnesses say at least eight masked men wearing tactical gear and carrying high caliber rifles were responsible for the most recent blitz.
The CJNG, considered Mexico’s most powerful and dangerous criminal organization, is well known for showing off its military-style weapons, equipment and uniforms in videos posted online.