EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Two U.S. citizens were killed during a prison fight that left 17 inmates dead and many others wounded in a municipal prison in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.
Hector Conde, spokesman for the Cereso municipal prison, identified the dead U.S citizens as Nicolas Frias Salas, 35, a former Los Angeles resident who was in prison for homicide and unlawful possession of weapons and Luis Adrian Estrada Perez, 28, formerly of El Paso, who was serving a term for kidnapping.
Both were living in Juarez when they were sent to prison, Conde said.
Mexican authorities told the U.S. consulate in Juarez about the deaths, but it couldn't confirm the men were U.S. citizens until relatives identified the corpses, consulate spokeswoman Olga Bashbush said. The consulate has located one man's family so far and expects to release his name in the coming days, she said.
A video released by prison authorities shows how two hooded inmates got keys to different doors of the facility, opened one to release other armed inmates and then opened the door of a room where the victims were being held and shot them with automatic weapons. The attack took less than a minute.
State prosecutors in northern Chihuahua are investigating reports that inmates brought four women into the prison before the shootings and were holding a party despite prison regulations against it.
After the inmates were killed, municipal police chief Julian Leyzaola's bulletproof car was sprayed with bullets by federal policemen who had arrived at the prison moments before.
The police chief was not hurt in the shooting that a Public Safety Department statement attributed to the former Mexican Army lieutenant colonel refusing to stop at a checkpoint set up by federal police.
"For this reason, his vehicle was fired upon to make it stop," the statement said.
Known for his hard-line approach to combatting crime, Leyzaola is credited for pacifying Tijuana. He took over the job in March and promised that Juarez would be much calmer by the end of 2011. So far, there has been a 22 percent reduction in the number of murders Juarez compared to the same period last year.
It's not clear whether the drop in violence is a result of the arrival of federal police in 2010, Leyzaola's purging of the municipal police or an alleged partial truce between drug cartels.
The incident marks yet another low point in the tense relations between municipal and federal forces. In January, Juarez's mayor Hector Murguia survived a shooting between his security detail and federal police.
Mexican media reported that Murguia announced just Monday that federal police chief Facundo Rosas Rosas told him his forces would start pulling out in September.
However, the federal Interior Department issued a statement late Wednesday, saying "federal forces will not abandon Ciudad Juarez" and "federal forces ... will adjust their presence with the aim of supporting the state government in promoting greater public safety."