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Videos Show Chaos in Mexican Border Town After Capture of Drug Cartel Leader

Gunmen hijacked and torched cars to blockade streets in Reynosa after the suspected leader of a Gulf cartel faction was captured Friday.

by Olivia Becker
Apr 18 2015, 7:45pm

Imagen vía AFP/Getty

Gunfights and clashes erupted Friday in the streets of a major border town in Mexico after security forces arrested a drug cartel leader.

Following the capture of "El Gafe," a leader of Mexico's fractured Gulf cartel, gunmen fired their weapons and torched cars to blockade the streets of Reynosa, a city across the border from McAllen, Texas, in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.

Three "armed civilians" were killed in the shootouts and two members of the Tamaulipas state police were injured, according to a statement by Mexico's Interior Ministry. Several suspects arrested during the shootouts were transferred to facilities in Mexico City, the statement said.

Reynosa, a city of 600,000, came to resemble a war zone after gunmen created several narcobloqueos, a cartel tactic that uses burning vehicles to block intersections and snarl traffic. The Reynosa government issued a "red light" emergency warning Friday afternoon, advising residents to stay away from several parts of the city.

Videos showed panicked civilians taking cover behind cars and buildings as dozens of gunshots rang out and huge plumes of black smoke billowed from burning cars and buses.

Related: Mexican workers at Canadian mines under constant threat of cartel kidnappings, killings 

According to Borderland Beat, a site that tracks Mexican drug war violence, the vehicles were hijacked and set on fire "in an apparent attempt to aid in rescuing" the captured cartel leader. The attorney general's office in the city also reportedly came under fire during the attack. Security forces brought the city back under control by Friday evening.

Related: How the Jalisco New Generation cartel is terrorizing the people of western Mexico 

Once one of Mexico's most powerful drug trafficking organizations, the Gulf cartel has split into two rival factions, with El Gafe based in Matamoros and leading the group known as Los Metros.

Police identified El Gafe as Jose Hugo Rodriguez Sanchez, retracting an earlier claim that he was Jose Tiburcio Hernandez Fuentes, another alleged Gulf cartel member.

Related: Parents of Mexico's missing 43 students are asking a local drug lord for help finding their sons 

Reynosa has been the scene of some of the worst drug cartel-related violence in Mexico in recent years. In addition to the rival Gulf cartel factions now vying for power, the Zetas cartel has fought for control of the lucrative smuggling routes through the city and surrounding border area.

Francisco Garcia Cabeza de Vaca, an opposition senator and former mayor of Reynosa said that the city was "completely out of control" on Friday, according to NBC News.

More than 100,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug war since 2006, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928