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Vigilante justice spreads across Mexico

More Mexicans turn to the lynch mob as crime spirals out of control.

A woman frees a man tied to a lamp post, after he was apprehended by neighbors accusing him of robbery, in Oaxaca City, Nov. 1, 2006. (Daniel Aguilar/Reuters)

MEXICO CITY, Mexico — The five teenage boys slump against the wall of a dark house and eye the camcorder nervously. Suddenly, a fist enters the frame smacking one of the boys in the face. Then the barrel of an automatic rifle appears and the teenagers’ expressions turn to terror.

“Why are you here?” shouts a voice.

“For robbing,” one of the boys mumbles.

“You see. You were little rats and now look at you,” replies the interrogator.

The torture video of the five alleged house burglars was posted on the internet last week. It is the latest sign of brutal vigilante justice spreading across Mexico.

As kidnappings, muggings and car jackings spiral out of control, and the authorities appear increasingly impotent, shadowy groups have been advocating justice by the sword.

In other recent cases, alleged kidnappers and car thieves have been abducted and murdered and had their corpses dumped in public places along with threatening notes.

There are also rising cases of mobs lynching alleged thieves and leaving them beaten, naked and tied up.

“The government is failing to provide security and people are turning to some brutal alternatives,” said Rossana Reguillo, who studies crime and violence at the Jesuit University of Guadalajara. “This is not something that has always been around in Mexico. It is a new phenomenon that has been growing since 2000.”

In the latest case, the five teenagers were abducted after they allegedly robbed a house in the town of Tepic in the Pacific state of Nayarit.

The boys — all students of a local high school — were taken to an abandoned building where they had their heads shaved and then were beaten by fists and rifle butts and threatened at gun point, as shown on the video. One of the torturers is heard on the film saying he is the man whose house was robbed.

The teenagers were also forced to perform sexual acts — including kissing each other in front of the camera — as a humiliation. The gunmen are heard threatening to cut their hands off unless they comply.

After being held all night the students were dumped naked on the street and then attended at hospital for injuries including broken ribs.

The torture film was posted on YouTube under the title “Little Rats of Tepic.” YouTube’s monitors quickly removed it from the site, flagging it as unsuitable content.

Following an outcry over the film, police on Monday arrested four building workers for the torture.

However, one of the boys said they had first been arrested by state police and it was the officers themselves who turned them to the vigilantes. The Nayarit police chief denies the charge, saying officers did not question the boys until after they had been tortured.