Mexican media have reported that a July 15 attack might have involved a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED). If true, this would reflect a significant tactical shift on the part of Mexico's drug cartels. A close analysis of the incident, however, suggests that a VBIED was not involved. Even so, other groups in Mexico are experimenting with improvised explosive devices.
Mexican media reports emerged July 15 that a suspected vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) was deployed against a Federal Police vehicle in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, killing two Federal Police agents, a municipal police officer and an emergency medical technician and injuring nine other people. The use of a VBIED against Mexican security forces by organized crime elements would be a tremendous escalation in tactics in Mexico. This does not appear to have been such an attack, however. La Linea — the enforcement wing of the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization (VCF), aka the Juarez cartel — orchestrated the attack around 7:30 p.m. local time near the intersection of 16 de Septiembre Avenue and Bolivia Avenue. The attack reportedly came in retaliation for the arrest of high-ranking VCF lieutenant Jesus "El 35" Armando Acosta Guerrero earlier in the afternoon. Guerrero is suspected of leading several of the group's operations in and around the Juarez area, including attacks on Mexican security forces, kidnappings, drug trafficking and extortion schemes. The incident began when an emergency call center in Juarez received an anonymous phone call just before 7:30 p.m. reporting a corpse in a vehicle near the intersection of 16 de Septiembre and Bolivia. Federal Police were dispatched to the area, where they found the body of a municipal police officer inside a green Ford Escort. From this point on, reports of the event diverge. According to one scenario, a civilian vehicle rammed a Federal Police vehicle and then detonated. U.S. security sources report, on the other hand, that the civilian vehicle rammed the Federal Police vehicle while gunmen outside the vehicle engaged the security forces with gunfire and grenades — igniting the gas tank of the civilian vehicle and causing it to explode. According to another version of events, the green Ford Escort was booby-trapped, detonating when the responding police opened its door. Separately, Mexican government sources reported that bomb-sniffing dogs discovered an intact improvised explosive device comprised of an industrial water-gel explosive known as TOVEX rigged to detonate via a cell phone trigger inside the green Ford Escort. Visual evidence does not support the use of a VBIED in this attack. The civilian vehicle had an intact chassis (though it was burned out), and windows on the surrounding buildings did not appear to be broken. The quantity of explosives used in a VBIED would have shattered nearby windows and destroyed the chassis of the civilian vehicle. The term VBIED means that the vehicle is part of the IED. (The vehicle most often is used as a delivery mechanism for the explosives.) If an improvised explosive was used in this incident, it was small device, not a VBIED. In the hours following the incident, a narcomanta, (or message from an organized criminal group, usually on a poster in a public place) appeared a few kilometers from the crime scene stating that La Linea would continue using car bombs. It thus appears that La Linea is seeking to capitalize on media reports that a VBIED and/or car bomb was used, even though this incident appears to have involved little more than a small explosive device or perhaps even homemade grenades placed inside a vehicle. The use of the term of VBIED implies a significant tactical escalation beyond merely placing explosives or grenades inside a car, actions many Mexican organized crime groups, including La Linea, are capable of. While it appears that a VBIED did not detonate in this particular incident, Mexican organized crime elements have been experimenting with IED construction in recent months. With any bombmaker, regardless of organization, there will be a learning curve. Given the geographic disparity between locations of where these suspected Mexican organized crime IED incidents have occurred, there appear to be multiple aspiring bombmakers in Mexico. This continued use of IEDs increases the likelihood that civilians will become collateral damage.