Murder Most Foul

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No. 6: Caracas, Venezuela

The so-called malandros -- gangs of young men who spar over turf and the right to push drugs -- have made the Venezuelan capital a virtual war zone. In 2011, Caracas witnessed 3,164 homicides -- a staggering figure just shy of the total number of coalition fatalities in Afghanistan during the entire 10-year conflict in that country. Venezuelan officials have been accused of fudging murder statistics, and the actual number of homicides is likely much higher than the reported figure. To make matters worse, up to 90 percent of murders in Venezuela go unsolved. It's no surprise, then, that the rampant violence proved to be the primary issue in the Venezuelan presidential campaign with Henrique Capriles Radonski blasting President Hugo Chávez for failing to stem the bloodshed. (Since Chávez's election in 1998, the murder rate in Venezuela has doubled.) Experts say that easy access to guns, a culture of violence among young men, and a lack of police and prosecutors have combined to create a perfect storm of lawlessness and a homicide rate of 99 murders per every 100,000 residents

Above, a young man on a motorcycle brandishes his handgun during clashes between pro- and anti-Chávez university students before a march toward Venezuela's Supreme Electoral Tribunal in 2007. The clashes left one person dead and six others wounded.

No. 7: Torreón, Mexico

A victim of Mexico's vicious drug war, the northern city of Torreón is now the scene of constant cartel-related killings as the country's drug lords battle for control of lucrative trafficking routes to Mexico's northern border. Last year, the city saw 88 homicides per every 100,000 residents. On a single Sunday afternoon in July, 10 people were killed in the city, five of whom were dismembered and two of whom were decapitated. And as the drug war has intensified, it has become increasingly difficult for normal citizens to escape the conflict. Above, fans duck as bullets fly during a shootout at a soccer match in Torreón in 2011.

No. 8: Chihuahua, Mexico

Situated about 150 miles from Mexico's border with Texas, the Mexican city of Chihuahua is a key transit point for cocaine heading toward the United States and, as a result, an important battleground for cartels interested in controlling drug-shipment routes. Violence in Chihuahua has become increasingly unhinged, reaching an average of 83 homicides per 100,000 residents. On April 15, for example, about 10 men dressed in tactical gear -- complete with skull patches -- stormed a bar and opened fire, killing 15 and wounding two, including two journalists, Francisco Javier Moya, the former news director at a radio station in Ciudad Juárez, and Hector Javier Salinas Aguirre, the owner of a news website. Nearly 50 journalists have been killed in Mexico since President Felipe Calderón came to power in 2006, and cartels increasingly target journalists who dare to report on the drug war.

Above is a memorial in Chihuahua in 2006 to murdered women called Cruz de Clavos, or Cross of Nails.

No. 10: Belém, Brazil

With cocaine streaming in from Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru, Belém has become a natural transit point for South American traffickers. The drug enters the city through the dense forests of the northern Amazon region by airplane or through the Amazon's many tributaries by boat, after which it is then shipped to other Brazilian cities or across the Atlantic to Europe and North Africa. That makes Belém, where the homicide rate has hit 78 murders per every 100,000 residents, an attractive piece of real estate, and violence has increased there accordingly. The city also bears the downsides of Brazil's rising prosperity. As the country has grown richer, its inhabitants have consumed more and more cocaine. The Financial Times has called this rise in cocaine consumption -- Brazilians now snort or smoke some 18 percent of the global supply -- the "most worrying side-effect of the country's recent consumer boom."

Above, an abandoned, graffitied building on a Belém street sits next to colonial-style structures in 2011.

No. 44: Mosul, Iraq

Mosul -- the city with the highest homicide rate in the Middle East -- is home to volatile sectarian tensions between Kurds and Sunnis fighting for control over the city. One of al Qaeda's last urban holdouts, Mosul, which anchors a region home to vast oil reserves, has been the scene of ongoing terrorist attacks and has remained one of Iraq's most restive cities following the U.S. withdrawal in 2011. Militants have continued to carry out attacks against the Shiite-led government, and the Iraqi Army has had a tense relationship with Mosul's residents, who complain of mistreatment at its hands. The fractious relationship has left security forces struggling at times to control the city's restive rebels, who in April 2011 killed five Iraqi soldiers along with three other people in a suicide attack. In the same year, the homicide rate hit 35 killings per every 100,000 residents.

Above, the family of a Kurdish journalist and student who was kidnapped and killed in 2011 mourns over his body during a funeral just hours after the corpse was found.

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