Police stand at a crime scene in Ciudad Juarez this week. An armed group of… (Gael Gonzalez, Reuters )
Reporting from Mexico City — On an especially deadly day in Mexico's most violent city, gunmen barged into a beer joint and killed eight people, six of them waitresses.
An additional 10 people were killed in other shootings in Ciudad Juarez during a 24-hour period ending early Friday. The city across the border from El Paso has been plagued by killings and kidnappings as rival drug gangs fight for control. But 18 dead in a single day seemed especially grim.
The worst incident was at Las Torres Bar in a low-end commercial strip in a rough Juarez neighborhood. Men with assault rifles opened fire on people in the bar Thursday night, killing the eight and seriously wounding three.
"They fired indiscriminately," said Carlos Gonzalez, spokesman for the Chihuahua state prosecutor's office.
Gonzalez initially said that seven of the victims were women who worked in the bar. Later the prosecutor's office issued a statement clarifying that six were female employees and the seventh was a man dressed as a woman.
Nearly 3,000 people were killed in Juarez last year alone, according to official government statistics, a bloodletting that has driven tens of thousands of people into exile and forced the shuttering of about 70% of the city's stores.
Mexican officials, meanwhile, are taking umbrage at recent comments by U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, who raised the possibility of an alliance between Mexican drug cartels and radical Islamic terrorists.
In testimony before a congressional committee this week, Napolitano said: "We have for some time been thinking ahead about what would happen if, say, Al Qaeda were to unite with the Zetas, one of the drug cartels."
She was responding to a question about the possibility of terrorists using a drug-trafficking network to smuggle bombs or other lethal material into the United States from Mexico.
Mexico's interior minister, Jose Francisco Blake Mora, said there was "no sign or element of a connection" between the groups. "Quite the contrary," he told a radio interviewer, "these are two very different phenomena."
Napolitano's remarks came just one day after U.S. Army Undersecretary Joseph Westphal apologized for referring to Mexican drug-trafficking gangs as a "form of insurgency."
Though the comment echoed a similar characterization voiced last year by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Obama administration has repeatedly sought to back away from such a description, which angers Mexican officials because it suggests, among other things, that the traffickers, like insurgents, desire to topple the government.