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In Pictures
In pictures: Mexico's murder capital
 
Located on the border with El Paso, Texas, Juarez is a key transit point for drugs entering the US - and cartels are battling to control it [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
While the city is a manufacturing hub, sending electronics and other goods to the US market, wages are low and many residents live in barrios, or slums. These low income communities often provide recruiting ground for cartels [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
Before the waves of violence, Juarez had been a city of permissible sin, full of bars, clubs and cheap restaurants. Today, the tourists are too scared to come and many businesses have closed [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
More than 7,800 people have been killed in the city since 2008, making it one of the most dangerous urban areas on earth [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
While Juarez is one of the most dangerous cities in the world, El Paso, Texas, where the taller buildings are located, is safe by US standards [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
The drug trade is nothing new in Juarez, but Mexican president Felipe Calderon's decision to launch an all war on cartels in 2006 has drastically increased the level of violence [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
In order to continue with their daily lives, local residents have had to accept a violent reality. Shoppers continue buying groceries and pushing strollers at a local mall, just ten minutes after a police officer was killed in a shoot-out with automatic weapons [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
But despite trauma, children still smile on school playgrounds [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
Some 3,000 military personnel have flooded the city, bringing good business to boot shiners and brothel owners, while other residents complain about endemic corruption of security forces [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
Violence takes a toll on the mental health of city residents. "For every person who is executed here, 40 people, including friends and family members, are affected by the ripples," says Pastor Jose Antonio Galvan who runs a mental health centre on the city's outskirts [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
While the violence drives some people mad, others are sent to jail after living in a drug fuelled fast lane [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
Inmates come to repent at this church inside the grounds of a prison [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
In prison, they call her "The Princess". This woman, Maria, said she came from a wealthy family. Police arrested her one night for possessing drugs. Her family paid a $10,000 bribe so she wouldn't be sent to jail, she says. But the police kept the money and incarcerated her, despite the payment. Now, rather than going to college, she will be spending three years in prison [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
Police conduct a mock jail break at the prison as a media stunt for reporters [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
Leading criminals, including Joaquin "el Chapo" ["Shorty"] Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa cartel, have escaped from prison in Mexico [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
Jail guards dress like like rioting prisoners to conduct the exercise [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
And, when it comes to public performances, they don't mess around [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
Local authorities are trying to teach young people about values, to keep them away from the drug trade, but thus far the plan hasn't been successful [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
Corruption among security forces remains a key problem and many local people do not trust the police or the army [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
Despite promises from politicians and security forces to reduce the violence, 2011 is slated to be the most deadly year yet for Ciudad Juarez [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera]
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The call comes over an intercepted police radio transmission just when our tacos arrive: One man has been beheaded and dismembered, his body parts strewn around a field, while a bomb has exploded on the other side of town in a separate incident.

Welcome to Juarez.

We leave our food and jump into an SUV, racing through red lights on darkened streets. This is one of the world's most deadly cities for reporters and car crashes are a major contributor to the danger, says the local journalist - doubling as high-speed chauffeur.

The police are on the scene when we arrive and yellow tape stretches between telephone poles in the working class suburb. The mangled body lays in a dusty field, covered by white sheets. One more victim of 21st century conflict: a gruesome drug war devoid of ideology or basic morality. Juarez, on Mexico’s border with Texas, is the world’s most dangerous city - worse than Baghdad - according to a 2009 study by the Citizen Council for Public Security and Justice, a Mexican non-profit organisation. Other studies dispute this claim.

At the site of the beheading, we flash press passes and duck under the police tape. This kind of scene is more a formality than a serious investigation; CSI style forensics are rarely used here - there are too many dead bodies stretching scant resources.

Despite eruptions of light from camera flashes, nobody can get proper photos in the dark. By the time we head out, several other journalists have arrived on the scene.

For reporters and gravediggers, this is a boom town. For average people, cognitive disassociation from ultra-violence seems to be the only way to survive daily life. Imagine a real-life Quentin Tarantino movie; blood for its own sake, pulp fiction with factual fatalities.

More than 3,000 people were killed in this city - population 1.3 million - in 2010 alone, ten times the figure for 2007, according to the El Paso Times newspaper.

Spectacular beheadings and brazen day-time shootings, along with the occasional banner hung with a scrawled message, are the cartels' communication methods. The medium, in this case, is the message. And the message is clear: Fear us.

El Diario, the city's leading newspaper, published an open editorial to the cartels in 2009, calling them the "de facto authority in the city" and asking for advice on what they shouldn’t publish, in order to keep their reporters alive.

On the surface, a turf war between the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's most powerful trafficking organisation, and the Juarez cartel lurks behind the bloodshed, as gangsters battle for lucrative shipping routes into the US. The decision of Felipe Calderon, Mexico's president, to declare all-out war on the cartels in 2006, exacerbated inter-cartel tensions.

Joaquin "el Chapo" ["Shorty"] Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa cartel, was listed (by Forbes magazine) as the world's second most wanted man - then behind only Osama bin Laden. The US Drug Enforcement Agency has a $5m bounty on his head. His net worth is estimated at more than $1bn.

Tales of el Chapo's exploits swirl through Juarez. Locals say he walked into a nice restaurant not too long ago. His guards demanded that patrons hand over their mobile phones. Guzman ate his meal, and then paid the tab of everyone in the restaurant. The place burned to the ground in a suspicious fire soon afterwards.

Authorities scored a coup in 2003 when they captured Chapo, sending him to jail. But the billionaire kingpin had the last laugh, escaping from jail in a laundry truck.

Today, security forces are keen to show that they control the prisons, if not the city itself. A group of a dozen local journalists gather outside a jail. Some guards dress up like inmates, covering their faces with bandanas, and hurling rocks and tires at security forces in riot gear. It's a mock jail break for the press. The inmates are quickly subdued by the guards, boot and guns press against necks, as the cuffs are slammed across wrists. But the rocks and tear gas are real. One leading jail guard gets his lip split by a projectile.

The journalists seem happy, most press events involve boring speeches, a few charts and some sandwiches. This one has great photo-ops and a hint of excitement - without any real danger.

While Juarez has become known for violence, El Paso, right across the border, is – remarkably – a safe, quiet, city with a declining crime rate.

Many former Juarez residents, especially those with money or US residency, have left town. But the local journalist working with me cannot leave, at least in the short-term. It's impossible to live in El Paso while earning Mexican wages. "When my kids want to go to the movies, or have a burger, we cross," he says. Each trip takes two to three hours. Some Juarez natives run their factories from El Paso.

The city used to have a gritty, rough-and-ready, seedy reputation. But even that celebration of scandal and immorality has been ruined by current violence.

"That used to be the best strip club in Juarez," says the local journalist, as we pass a blackened shell.

Ten years ago, American eighteen-year-olds would cross the border for a night of illicit, under-age booze and maybe a dirty dance. No longer.

On a Friday night, the police erect checkpoints at entrance points to a downtown strip with half a dozen bars and restaurants. People come out in droves, eating chicken wings and drinking beer in a road-house style pool bar that feels more like Texas than Mexico. But outside of this Mexican version of Baghdad's infamous green zone, the party stops early.

Despite the violence, children still go to school, couples get married, roads are paved and residents gather at local churches for Sunday mass.

And, while Juarez may be the world’s most violent city, life there goes on, even if death lurks around every corner. 


In pictures: Mexico's murder capital /mritems/Images/2011/4/19/201141918149360427_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/201141918143948738_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/201141918522991954_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/2011419181132139833_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/201141918410974150_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/2011419181114388427_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/201141918144393884_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/2011419181327344304_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/201141918553554987_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/2011419181153264572_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/2011419181353610725_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/20114191845822150_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/2011419184731227982_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/201141918445410633_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/2011419184351379148_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/2011419184320160572_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/2011419184335910790_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/2011419181310734919_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/2011419181215686790_20.jpg;*;/mritems/Images/2011/4/19/201141918653102954_20.jpg Located on the border with El Paso, Texas, Juarez is a key transit point for drugs entering the US - and cartels are battling to control it [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;While the city is a manufacturing hub, sending electronics and other goods to the US market, wages are low and many residents live in barrios, or slums. These low income communities often provide recruiting ground for cartels [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;Before the waves of violence, Juarez had been a city of permissible sin, full of bars, clubs and cheap restaurants. Today, the tourists are too scared to come and many businesses have closed [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;More than 7,800 people have been killed in the city since 2008, making it one of the most dangerous urban areas on earth [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;While Juarez is one of the most dangerous cities in the world, El Paso, Texas, where the taller buildings are located, is safe by US standards [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;The drug trade is nothing new in Juarez, but Mexican president Felipe Calderon(***)s decision to launch an all war on cartels in 2006 has drastically increased the level of violence [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;In order to continue with their daily lives, local residents have had to accept a violent reality. Shoppers continue buying groceries and pushing strollers at a local mall, just ten minutes after a police officer was killed in a shoot-out with automatic weapons [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera] ;*;But despite trauma, children still smile on school playgrounds [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;Some 3,000 military personnel have flooded the city, bringing good business to boot shiners and brothel owners, while other residents complain about endemic corruption of security forces [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;Violence takes a toll on the mental health of city residents. "For every person who is executed here, 40 people, including friends and family members, are affected by the ripples," says Pastor Jose Antonio Galvan who runs a mental health centre on the city(***)s outskirts [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;While the violence drives some people mad, others are sent to jail after living in a drug fuelled fast lane [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;Inmates come to repent at this church inside the grounds of a prison [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;In prison, they call her "The Princess". This woman, Maria, said she came from a wealthy family. Police arrested her one night for possessing drugs. Her family paid a $10,000 bribe so she wouldn(***)t be sent to jail, she says. But the police kept the money and incarcerated her, despite the payment. Now, rather than going to college, she will be spending three years in prison [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;Police conduct a mock jail break at the prison as a media stunt for reporters [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;Leading criminals, including Joaquin "el Chapo" ["Shorty"] Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa cartel, have escaped from prison in Mexico [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;Jail guards dress like like rioting prisoners to conduct the exercise [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;And, when it comes to public performances, they don(***)t mess around [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;Local authorities are trying to teach young people about values, to keep them away from the drug trade, but thus far the plan hasn(***)t been successful [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;Corruption among security forces remains a key problem and many local people do not trust the police or the army [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera];*;Despite promises from politicians and security forces to reduce the violence, 2011 is slated to be the most deadly year yet for Ciudad Juarez [Chris Arsenault/Al Jazeera] 0
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