CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — The first successful car bombing by a drug cartel brings a new dimension of terror to a Mexican border region already shocked by random street battles, bodies dangling from bridges and highway checkpoints mounted by heavily armed criminals.
The attack, seemingly lifted from an al-Qaida playbook, demonstrated once again that the cartels are a step ahead of federal police in the battle against traffickers in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.
People in Ciudad Juarez already live under siege. Many businesses close long before dark every day to avoid criminal gangs. Parents take separate cars to the same place so one can warn the other of dangers ahead. Ambulance drivers and emergency room doctors come under fire from gangs trying to finish off wounded rivals.
The car bomb, which killed at least three people Thursday, was something nobody was expecting.
A street gang tied to the Juarez cartel lured federal officers and paramedics in by dressing a bound, wounded man in a police uniform and calling in a report of an officer shot, said Ciudad Juarez Mayor Jose Reyes.
Among the three killed was a private doctor who rushed to the scene. Among the injured was a local TV cameraman.
Even in a country where beheadings and drive-by shootings are routine, authorities could not imagine the cartels would use such a strike.
The Red Cross in Ciudad Juarez already instructs personnel to wait until police cordon off the scene of an attack before treating the wounded. But Thursday, the attackers waited until everyone was in place before striking.
Now, Red Cross officials said, they are telling rescuers to look for anything unusual — a parked car or an abandoned bag — that could be a bomb.
"They have to think with their heads and not their hearts," said Gilberto Contreras, the president of the Red Cross in the city.
Federal police said the bombing was in retaliation for the arrest earlier in the day of a top leader of the La Linea gang, which works for the Juarez drug cartel. Brig. Gen. Eduardo Zarate, the commander of the regional military zone, said as much as 22 pounds of explosives might have been detonated remotely.