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Violence From Mexico's Drug War Moves Into Mexico City

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In Mexico City yesterday, there was a full-on shootout between the military and a drug cartel. Multiple people were killed. It's a big deal. To be sure, there's plenty of drug violence across Mexico but rarely like this in the capital, which is where we find reporter James Fredrick, who joins us by Skype. Good morning.

JAMES FREDRICK, BYLINE: Morning.

INSKEEP: What's the area like where the shootout happened?

FREDRICK: So the area where the shootout happened is known as Tlahuac. It's one of the outer boroughs of Mexico City in the southeast. It is a bit of a lower-class area, known for a bit higher violence. It's right on the border of Mexico state, which surrounds Mexico City and has higher crime levels. But it's certainly not accustomed to the kind of violence we saw yesterday.

INSKEEP: OK. So I was reading this started with just a kind of routine investigation of street-level drug dealers. What happened?

FREDRICK: Well, we found out after the fact that this was the result of about six months of investigation by Mexico's marines into a guy named Felipe de Jesus Perez Luna. He was the alleged drug cartel boss in this area. He was known as El Ojos. They had been looking into him for at least six months, but he had been known to authorities for years apparently.

He was in charge of dealing drugs to UNAM, which is the very large university. It's a campus of more than 100,000 people here in Mexico City. They were also in charge - they were also extorting businesses, kidnapping people. And this really came to a head about a month ago when authorities from the university actually sent a press release to the city government saying, we need your help because there is lots of crime and drug dealing...

INSKEEP: Wow.

FREDRICK: ...Around here, and we know who's doing it.

INSKEEP: A public appeal - and they thought it was this guy. You said El Ojos. That's the eyes. That's what he was called?

FREDRICK: He was called El Eyes. He was called El Ojos, The Eyes. So you can imagine, you know, what he was known for. He was, you know, known as the person who had eyes everywhere around there. And he was apparently well known. You know, after the shootout actually happened yesterday - so he and seven of his collaborators - or alleged collaborators were killed.

And after that, a bunch of taxi drivers in the area did what we call narcobloqueos down here. It's where they take big trucks and buses. They block major thoroughfares and then light these trucks and buses on fire. It's a really common tactic to just create confusion and fear when authorities come after cartels. And so it was clear that El Ojos was really well-established, well-known and had lots of people loyal to him in this area.

INSKEEP: Has this unnerved people in this city that was thought to be off limits for this kind of violence?

FREDRICK: Yeah. Mexico City, to quite a degree, has been insulated from Mexico's drug war violence. You know, if we think of cities that have really been ravaged by it, like Ciudad Juarez or Acapulco, Mexico City's never had that. The mayor here has actually insisted and still insists to this day that drug cartels do not operate here. Yesterday's events will really call that into question.

And there is a fear that, you know, when authorities go after drug cartels, they retaliate. And they fight back. So there's definitely a sense of uneasiness in the immediate aftermath of this of, you know, what groups are operating here and how might they react?

INSKEEP: James Fredrick, thanks very much, really appreciate it.

FREDRICK: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: He's a reporter joining us by Skype from Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.