MEXICO CITY — A group of armed men posing as public servants talked their way into a prison in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero early Friday and unleashed a bloody attack on inmates and guards, according to the state prosecutor’s office. At least nine people were killed in the assault and the ensuing shootout with prison guards.
The attack occurred in the city of Iguala, about halfway between Mexico City and the Pacific Coast resorts of Acapulco. It came less than two months after Mexico’s national human rights commission issued a report that detailed the wretched state of the country’s penal system, noting that 65 of the nation’s 101 most crowded prisons are effectively under inmate control.
In a statement Friday, state prosecutors said they were not ruling out the involvement of prison officials in the raid, either “by omission or participation.”
Mexican prison authorities have a well-established history of colluding with criminals. Members of the country’s powerful drug cartels, meanwhile, have a long tradition of masquerading as law enforcement officials while doing some of their bloodiest business.
According to the prosecutor’s statement, six armed men entered the prison on the pretense that they were public servants there to deliver an inmate. Once inside, the men first attacked a group of prisoners and then engaged in a shootout with prison guards in a security tower. Four prisoners were killed, as well as five of the assailants. The sixth was hospitalized with gunshot wounds, along with an injured guard.
State and federal authorities, including members of the Mexican Army, eventually re-established control of the prison. The news service Milenio reported Friday that an inmate had been killed in a brawl at the prison three days earlier.
The administration of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has vowed to reform the country’s penal system. Reform was also a goal of Pena Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderon, who served from 2006 to 2012.
The U.S. government poured millions of dollars into the prison reform effort, along with programs to modernize the court system and purge dirty cops from police forces.
The human rights commission’s annual report on the state of prisons, issued in November, underscored the challenge, noting that 261 inmates escaped from Mexican prisons in 2012, and 154 were killed in riots, fights and other acts of violence.