Bloodbath at prison football match between rival drug cartels leaves 16 dead

Sixteen inmates are dead after a "friendly" prison football match between rival drug cartel members descended into a bloodbath.

Prisoners were armed with weapons, including guns, during the New Year's Eve fight that left five others wounded and unfolded while family members, including children, watched.

Members of Mexico's rival Gulf and Los Zetas cartels were playing in the football match and it later emerged that an escape bid was foiled during the violence, local media reported.

It took about two hours for a riot squad to restore order at the Varonil prison in the small town of Cieneguillas, located in Mexico's north-central Zacatecas state.


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Heavily-armed security forces, including soldiers, and paramedics raced to the prison, where 15 inmates died of their injuries.

A 16th victim died after being rushed to hospital.

After the incident, police seized four guns and launched a search for additional weapons, it was reported.

At least one inmate was carrying a weapon when he was arrested.

Reports said the football match involved members of the Gulf and Los Zetas cartels.

Family members were allowed to visit the prison and watch the game, given that it was the final day of the year.

They were rushed out of the area when the fight began.

At least 20 ambulances attended the scene.

The Los Zetas cartel formed about nine years ago when its founders broke away from the Gulf crime syndicate and set up a rival faction.

The fighting began on Tuesday afternoon, a day after prison staff conducted a sweep for weapons and contraband, including illicit drugs, booze and phones.

Guards seized about 20 knives, a bone saw, two hammers, a 9mm cartridge and scissors during that search, local media reported.

Security will be boosted at prisons in the state, the government said after the violence.

Mexico saw record levels in violence in 2019, largely fuelled by rival drug cartels fighting over territory.

In November, suspected hitmen were blamed for murdering nine women and children from a Mormon family in the northern state of Sonora.

Last month, 12 police officers were killed in the central state of Guanajuato in a single week.

US President Donald Trump wants to designate Mexican drug cartels as “terrorist organisations".

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