19 fatally shot at drug rehab center in northern Mexico

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) — At least 30 gunmen burst into a drug rehabilitation center in a Mexican border state capital and opened fire, killing 19 men and wounding several others, police said.

The killings happened late Thursday at the Faith and Life center in Chihuahua city, about 210 miles (350 kilometers) south of Ciudad Juarez and the border with El Paso, Texas, said state police spokesman Fidel Banuelos.

They came a day after unidentified assailants killed one man and wounded another at a rehab center in Ciudad Juarez.

The men at the Faith and Life center were roused out of bed shortly before 11 p.m. and placed face-down along a hallway, the center's director, Cristian Rey Ramirez, told The Associated Press.

Ramirez was alerted to the attack by the center's pastor by telephone.

"He tells me, 'You know what, come here because they just killed everyone,'" Rey said. "There was no warning."

The attackers left messages accusing the victims of being criminals, Banuelos said.

Four other people were hospitalized but their conditions were not immediately known.

The victims ranged in age from 30 to 40, and included a blind man, said the Rev. Rene Castillo, a minister who gives weekly sermons at the center.

"Everyone is so scared now," he said, adding that violence is "all everyone talks about, especially with all the threats that have been made."

President Felipe Calderon, whose war on drugs has claimed nearly 23,000 lives since he took office in late 2006, issued a statement Friday condemning the shootings.

"They are outrageous acts that reinforce the conviction of the need to fight criminal groups who carry out such barbaric acts with full legal force," he said.

Police have said that two of Mexico's six major drug cartels are exploiting rehab centers to recruit hit men and drug smugglers, often threatening to kill those who don't cooperate. Others are killed for failing to pay for drugs or betraying a dealer.

More than 60 people have died in mass shootings at rehab clinics in a little less than two years.

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Danica Coto reported from Mexico City.