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Five arrested amid false rumors of attacks in Mexico City

September 7, 2012 |  3:25 pm

MEXICO CITY -- Five people are under arrest for allegedly driving through low-income neighborhoods in eastern Mexico City warning residents of pending attacks, part of what police called a string of false rumors that have sown fear across the city's east side since Wednesday.

Authorities said five people, four men and a woman, were arrested Thursday evening in the Agricola Oriental neighborhood of the Iztacalco borough.

They allegedly were warning residents through a megaphone to close their shops and stay indoors because a political group known as Antorcha Campesina was heading there to commit crimes, authorities said.

At least one of the people detained told authorities that they were being paid 400 pesos each, or about $31, to spread the warnings, Mexico City Atty. Gen. Jesus Rodriguez said in a radio interview, but the source of the payments was not yet known.

"The cyber branch of this agency is searching for the origin" of the rumors, Rodriguez said.

The incident recalled the 2011 case of the so-called Twitter Terrorists in the state of Veracruz. In that case, two people were arrested and faced charges of terrorism for spreading rumors of attacks on a school in the Veracruz port, but those charges were later dropped.

On Friday, news video showed closed shops, schools and markets across the eastern region of Mexico City encompassing the boroughs of Iztacalco and Iztapalapa, and the suburb of Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl in the state of Mexico, where the rumors started.

Authorities said the source of the panic might have been a confrontation between groups of rival bicycle taxi drivers that left one person dead Wednesday in the neighboring suburb of Chicoloapan (link in Spanish).

Law enforcement agencies repeatedly affirmed Thursday and Friday that no systematic attacks were occurring in the area. And yet, on social-networking sites, rumors continued to flow of violence at the hands of the Antorcha group or the cartel known as La Familia Michoacana, which operates in the area.

The void of verified information led conspiracy-minded Mexicans to speculate about possible local political interests at play after Mexico's July 1 general election.

Antorcha Campesina is a known arm of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. In Chicoloapan, one report said, the group might be seeking to muscle away business from bicycle cabbies backed by the left-wing Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, which also governs Iztacalco and Iztapalapa.

Again, confirmation was elusive. A representative of Antorcha Campesina denied the allegations to the newspaper El Economista, calling the group "serious" and not "a criminal organization."

The rumors rattled Mexico City, which has been largely spared of the violence and fear attributed to organized crime in many other regions of the country. The five arrested Thursday were held for "disturbing the peace," as defined by Mexico City's civil code.

"The delicate part is, who was paying them, why and with what interests," said Pablo Fuentes, a spokesman at the legal counsel ministry of City Hall. "There must be more at play, and we have to corroborate that."

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-- Daniel Hernandez

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