National Geographic reporter was shot during ambush on Aztecas gang in Juarez, authorities say

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Journalists were negotiating interview with drug dealer when rivals started shootout, Mexican official says

JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — The house where two members of the Aztecas drug gang were fatally shot and a National Geographic reporter wounded last Friday had been the site of two murders in April, a Mexican official said.

The home on Cerro de la Mesa street south of the Juarez Airport was a known “safe house” — a place where criminals store drugs or keep rivals captive — that was searched by police last spring after the earlier killings were reported.

A crew of journalists — two Americans, one Canadian and one Mexican — were at the home trying to negotiate an interview with a drug dealer when two vehicles arrived at the house and a gun battle ensued, said Jorge Nava, Chihuahua state deputy attorney general.

“The target of the attack were the persons who were ultimately killed. The relatives who came to identify their bodies said they belonged to the Aztecas criminal organization,” Nava said. “Shots were fired from the outside as well as from the inside.”

One of the deceased, identified by outside sources as Neri Eduardo M., had been convicted of extortion in 2003. He died early Saturday at a Juarez hospital. No information was available on the man who died at the house, other than he was still clutching his handgun when police found his body, Nava said.

Mexican authorities have declined to name the members of the National Geographic crew. The injured American was shot in the leg, taken to a Juarez hospital for immediate treatment and later taken to a hospital in El Paso, Nava said. His companions were interviewed by police and allowed to return to their hotel. Police believe they are now back in the United States.

The NatGeo crew had been in Juarez in 2010 to document the drug war. They came back to do a documentary on the city’s violence in 2019, Nava said.

“They contacted several people from an organized crime group for interviews such as this one. … We believe they were still negotiating (the terms) when this occurred,” Nava said. The official said the source wanted money in exchange for the interview.

Some of the journalists camera equipment and microphones have been recovered by police and will be returned when the investigation concludes. “Their consulate has been notified and we remain in contact with them in case more information is required,” Nava said.

As for the assassins, the Mexican official said police have obtained detailed descriptions of them and their vehicles but had made no arrests as of Monday afternoon.

Nava said Mexican police will escort or do patrol ridealong with visiting journalists who wish to pursue news stories in dangerous neighborhoods. However, if their intent is to document “illegal activity,” the authorities will not assist them, Nava said.

Juarez has recorded more than 1,200 murders so far this year. Ninety percent of those were drug-related, according to police.

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