Death toll rises to 19 from prison attack in Mexican border town

Mexican National Guard stand guard outside a state prison in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Jan 1, 2023. (CHRISTIAN CHAVEZ / AP)

MEXICO CITY – An attack on a prison in the Mexican border town of Juarez left 19 dead and allowed a cartel kingpin to escape along with two dozen other prisoners, authorities said Monday.

An armed group, traveling in armored vehicles, launched almost-simultaneous attacks on the prison and the municipal police station, Defense Minister Luis Crescencio Sandoval said in a news conference.

Authorities said the Sunday morning attack had coincided with preparations for New Year's Day visits

Authorities said the Sunday morning attack had coincided with preparations for New Year's Day visits. They initially said the death toll was at least 14, but by Monday, Sandoval said, this had risen to 19: 10 guards, seven prisoners and two attackers.

The attack allowed 25 inmates, including Ernesto Alfredo Pinon de la Cruz, also known as "El Neto," to escape. Pinon is a top gunman for the Juarez-based "Los Mexicles" cartel, Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodriguez said at the news conference.

Federal authorities were called in to contain the unrest. They later found a "VIP zone" in the state-run prison with drugs and money, said Rodriguez, who slammed the Chihuahua state administration.

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"That's the state's responsibility, because federal authorities can't intervene in these places," Rodriguez said.

She added that state authorities had not requested that any dangerous prisoners, such as "El Neto," be transferred from the overcrowded prison to a higher-security location.

State prosecutor Roberto Javier Duarte said in a separate news conference on Monday that state authorities would "completely clean out the penitentiary system" in response to the attack and that those guilty of corruption would be prosecuted.

Later Monday, Interior Minister Adan Augusto Lopez said in a statement that Chihuahua authorities had requested the inexpensive transfer of an undetermined number of prisoners to federal sites.

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The incident Sunday resulted in one of the highest death tolls from prison attacks in Mexico in recent years.