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With decapitations and dangling bodies, cartel-style crime takes root in Mexico City

A unidentified man hangs from his waist under an overpass in Mexico City, early Monday, Oct. 19, 2015.

A unidentified man hangs from his waist under an overpass in Mexico City, early Monday, Oct. 19, 2015.  ((AP/Jair Cabrera))

On the morning of Oct. 27, a corpse was found hanging from La Concordia bridge in the impoverished Mexico City neighborhood of Iztapalapa.

Bleeding from the face and bent in two from the loop around its waist that suspended it in midair, the shocking sight unleashed a new level of horror in this capital city.

While Mexicans have seen executions like this before – in which the organized crime members seem to be sending a gruesome message to rivals, the authorities or the media – they have mostly occurred in the country’s northern states and along its Pacific coast.

In fact, Mexico City – both the D.F., or federal district, and its suburbs in the State of Mexico – historically have been spared the large-scale killings, abductions and extortion that are most commonly associated with drug cartels. 

But that has been changing since the government of then-President Felipe Calderón unleashed its all-out assault on drug cartels in 2006. Over the course of the years, it has happened slowly, but recently the situation in the capital has gotten much worse, with unmistakable signs of organized crime gang activity. And the municipal government seems to be in denial over the change.

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Two months before the La Concordia find, five people were tortured and killed in the apartment they shared in the middle-class neighborhood of Navarte – the same part of the city where the photojournalist Rubén Espinosa suffered the same fate in July.

Exactly 30 days before, Marco Antonio Utrilla, the owner of a bar called Life, was chased through the city for hours in the middle of the night by gunmen until he reached the bar in Condesa, the city's hippest, most fashionable neighborhood, where he was executed.

"There's a clear operation, blunt and precise, by the cartels in Mexico City," José Antonio Ortega, president of the Citizen's Council for Public Safety and Penal Justice, a civic group that tracks organized crime violence, told Fox News Latino.

Ortega said that Calderón's strategy to stop the drug flow to the United States diverted the illicit sale of narcotics toward the interior of Mexico. "The jewel of the crown of this market,” he pointed out, “is Mexico City."

According to the Institute for Addiction Study and Prevention, the rate of drug addiction and consumption in the Mexico City metropolitan area, which includes 20 million residents or a sixth of the country's population, is around 40 percent higher than the national average – 8.5 percent compared to the countrywide rate of 6 percent.

The first signs of the cartels' turf war, according to the organization Stop the Kidnappings, were reports of abductions and the extortion of businesses along the D.F.’s border with the state of Mexico. 

After that, decapitated bodies began to appear, in the airport and the exclusive residential zone of Santa Fe and even in the city's sprawling subway system.

The head of one woman in her 30s was dumped in a corner of the Rosario subway station in 2013. During 2015, a total of 1,145 murders ravaged the State of Mexico and the D.F.

"They are isolated incidents," Mexico City’s mayor, Miguel Ángel Mancera, recently told the press, which at the same time was getting leaked prosecutor reports about captured gang hitmen.

The press has also been filled with reports of sicarios contracted to collect drug debts – violent criminals such as José Arley Perdomo, a veteran of the Colombian Navy whom the police captured when he was about to murder a debtor with a .28-caliber pistol.

"We have never denied the presence of small-time drug dealing," Mancera explained.

Yet the apparent contradiction of recognizing such an actively violent drug culture while denying the presence of cartels angers more than a few of the city's residents.

"The only person who doesn't see organized crime in Mexico City is the mayor," Isabel Miranda de Wallace, president of Stop the Kidnappings, told FNL. "It's not just me who's saying this. The data and the facts say it, too."

Gardenia Mendoza is a freelance reporter in Mexico City.