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The party atmosphere surrounding Mexico's Independence Day celebrations in Mexico City's Garibaldi Plaza was shattered Sept. 14 when a group of three gunmen dressed as mariachis opened fire on a group seated at a restaurant. The hail of pistol and rifle fire killed five people and injured another eight. The apparent target of the attack was Jorge Flores Concha "El Tortas," the leader of a criminal organization known as "La U," or "La Fuerza Antiunion," a group that split from the powerful Union Tepito crime network.
Union Tepito assassinated El Tortas' predecessor, Omar Sanchez Oropeza, aka "El Oropeza" or "El Gaznate," on May 5 in a parking garage in the Tlaxpana colony of the Miguel Hidalgo delegation of Mexico City. Union Tepito sometimes uses the name New Generation Cartel of Tepito, illustrating its close connection to the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG). The CJNG is the most aggressively expanding cartel in Mexico and is behind much of the violence that has wracked Mexico in 2018.
A Professional Attack
The attack was well-planned and well-executed, which may be a result of the support Union Tepito has received from the CJNG and its experienced enforcer groups. While it is unclear if El Tortas was at the restaurant at the time of the attack, most of the dead and wounded were associated with him, according to Mexican newspaper El Milenio. This suggests Union Tepito had intelligence on his plans in advance and was able to prepare for the attack.
Using gunmen dressed as mariachis provided good cover for status, allowing the attack team to move into the area with rifles hidden in their instrument cases. After the attack, the shooters escaped on the back of motorcycles operated by drivers staged and waiting for them. The motorcycles likely took the shooters to safety in the maze of nearby Tepito, the group's stronghold. Their hasty exit suggests the attackers feared the Garibaldi Plaza area's heavy police presence, which is not a concern in many parts of Mexico.
An Ongoing Cartel Threat
The conflict between Union Tepito and La U has resulted in a significant increase in homicides in Tepito and adjacent areas of Mexico City so far in 2018. Union Tepito efforts to eradicate La U will continue, and La U can be expected to retaliate against Union Tepito for the attack.
The increased violence has prompted local business and political leaders to request that the Mexican military deploy forces to improve security in parts of the capital. Such a brazen attack will likely result in similar calls, which will make it very difficult for Mexico's incoming administration to fulfill its campaign promise of removing the military from the struggle against Mexico's criminal cartels.
Reports indicate that one of the eight wounded victims was a foreign tourist. This highlights the persistent danger of being in the wrong place at the wrong time in Mexico. It also once again illustrates how cartel leaders can drag violence into any part of Mexico.
In light of these risks, travelers and expatriates in Mexico should practice good situational awareness and pay specific attention to people who might belong to cartels. If a group of such people enters a restaurant or other establishment, it would be prudent to be prepared to respond to a possible incident, and even to leave the location to avoid potential violence.