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Unprecedented terrorism taking root in Mexico

For months we’ve heard reactionaries call for sealing off the Mexican border, alleging that armed terrorists are, or could be, swarming across the border and putting Americans in danger.

We’ve been among the many who have insisted that it just isn’t happening; in fact, some of the safest cities in the country are on or near the border, including El Paso, Phoenix and San Diego.

That fact might result from the heavy attention and resources already dedicated to protecting the border. And although violence has been high in northern Mexico, most of it has been focused between warring drug gangs and the military troops who are trying to control them.

Some innocent people have been hurt or killed by stray bullets. Some of those strays have even reached the U.S. side of the border, although they haven’t hit anyone.

Both the gangsters and the troops have been willing to confront their targets wherever they find them, even on busy streets, neighborhoods or crowded shopping centers. But for the most part the munitions have been fired at specific targets. The public at large, for the most part, was relatively safe.

All that is starting to change, however. The recent slaughter of 72 transmigrantes — migrants traveling through Mexico between their Central and South America homes and the United States — was a shocking indication that the violence has entered a new stage.

Besides those killings we have seen an increased use of explosives. Grenades have been thrown at several locations in Matamoros recently, the most recent just blocks from the Gateway International Bridge. Unexploded devices have been found at several Reynosa locations. The use of car bombs has also been on the rise in several Mexican cities. Obviously, explosives cause greater damage, and also increase the likelihood that innocent people will be hurt or killed.

In addition, public officials and candidates are being killed with increasing frequency; the most recent was the shooting death of the mayor of the Tamaulipas town of Hidalgo, which lies between Ciudad Victoria and Monterrey. The mayor’s 4-year-old daughter was also shot in the attack.

Attacks on political leaders, and on the public in general, are an ugly turn, and a sign that the drug gangs are turning to more extreme tactics.

Targeting innocent people instills fear among the public; attacks on politicians are meant to destabilize the government. Together they aim to undermine public confidence in government.

There still is no indication that the cartels are willing, or even able, to bring their campaign of violence and instability across the border, but the possibility merits concern. In addition, people who cross into Mexico need to be aware of the new risks. In the past, people who stayed in public places close to the border could feel relatively safe.

Does this mean we should shut down the border? Of course not.

But one thing is clear: the threat of terrorism is closer than ever. It doesn’t come in the form of religious fanatics who hate our people, but cold-blooded businessmen who just want to keep profiting from officials’ efforts to control the supply and demand of drugs.