Mexico Security Memo: Arson Attacks on Multinational Corporation

7 MINS READMay 30, 2012 | 10:03 GMT

The Knights Templar Targets Sabritas

People with suspected links to the Knights Templar set fires May 25 and May 26 at five locations belonging to Sabritas, a Mexican subsidiary of PepsiCo Inc. The first attack targeted a distribution plant in Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan state, on May 25. Four additional Sabritas facilities were targeted May 26 in Apatzingan and Uruapan, Michoacan state, and in Celaya and Salvatierra, Guanajuato state. Federal police arrested four people who reportedly belonged to the Knights Templar on May 27 in Salvatierra, Guanajuato state. Authorities said one of the detainees admitted involvement in the attacks, which he said were related to extortion attempts. State authorities separately said Sabritas had failed to pay an extortion "tax."

While some media reported that the Knights Templar has accused Sabritas of spying on it, the attacks probably were intended to send a message to Sabritas and to the public to comply with its extortion demands. The Knights Templar's willingness to attack such a high-level corporation highlights its confidence.

Like many organized criminal groups in Mexico, the Knights Templar operates in cells, with cell leaders responsible for specific municipalities or cities. While each cell may act autonomously, each leader receives some level of guidance and must pay taxes to higher-ups responsible for multiple areas. Given that the attacks occurred in several geographic regions, coordination likely occurred at the higher level of the organization.

Mexico's cartels frequently target multinational corporations (MNCs) but usually not in such high-profile attacks. Stratfor sources indicate MNCs routinely fall victim to extortion and cargo theft, and we have seen some reports of expatriates being kidnapped. (Mexican national MNC employees are as susceptible to extortion and kidnapping as any other Mexican.) Organized criminals also steal high-value materials such as vehicles from MNCs.

Mexican authorities probably will increase pressure on the Knights Templar in response to the Sabritas attacks, which may not represent a new trend given the new attention from law enforcement and the military. This pressure will impede the organization's operations, perhaps deterring frequent attacks of this scale by the Knights Templar or other criminal groups.

Nuevo Laredo Vehicle Explosion

Unidentified individuals detonated a small explosive device inside a vehicle parked at the Hotel Santa Cecilia in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, on May 24. Ten Tamaulipas state police staying at the hotel were wounded in the attack.

The attack occurred a month after the last explosive device detonated inside a vehicle in Nuevo Laredo. While some media reports have called the more recent attack a car bombing, the minimal damage to the hotel indicates the use of a small explosive device, one apparently not designed to level the building. This indicates that the culprits sought to intimidate the authorities rather than cause numerous causalities.

Mexico Weekly Map May 30, 2012

Since it used only a few pounds of explosives, the attack fits the trend of Mexican cartels limiting the scale of their improvised explosive devices. Authorities still have not attributed this most recent attack to a particular organization. The timing of the attack, which followed a series of arsons, suggests it is connected to recent conflict in Nuevo Laredo between the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas. However, according to some media reports, unnamed state authorities called Los Zetas the likely suspects given the series of arsons against Los Zetas' assets in Nuevo Laredo preceding the attack. With the Sinaloa Federation and its allies perceiving some authorities in Tamaulipas state as supporting the Zetas, the Sinaloa Federation has an interest in attacking the location depending on perceptions of the loyalties of the police officials inside the hotel.

May 23

  • Unidentified gunmen shot and killed a man and a woman in separate incidents in Culiacan, Sinaloa state. Both were attacked in front of their homes.
  • Mexican authorities extradited suspected drug trafficker Sergio Villarreal Barragan to the United States. Villarreal Barragan had been in Mexican custody since 2010.
  • Unidentified individuals set fire to two nightclubs in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state.

May 24

  • A fight at a prison in Reynosa, Tamaulipas state, reportedly left three prisoners dead. According to unconfirmed reports, 85 prisoners escaped.
  • Soldiers seized a workshop used to make fake military uniforms during a raid in Piedras Negras, Coahuila state.
  • Soldiers on kilometer 176.5 (mile 109.5) of the Sonoyta-San Luis Rio Colorado highway in Sonora state seized 93 kilograms (205 pounds) of crystal meth in a trailer carrying squash and arrested the driver.
  • Soldiers in Saltillo, Coahuila state, shot and killed three suspected gunmen during a 45-minute chase and firefight.
  • State authorities arrested the municipal police chief for Villa Corona, Jalisco state, and four other police officers. The five are suspected of participating in two murders.
  • Unidentified gunmen shot and killed two men drinking beer in a stationary car in Cadereyta, Nuevo Leon state.
  • Unidentified individuals detonated a small explosive device inside a vehicle parked on the premises of the Hotel Santa Cecilia in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, wounding at least 10 state police officers staying at the hotel.

May 25

  • Soldiers shot and killed a suspected gunman and arrested 15 others during a raid in Rio Verde, Michoacan state. The army seized a grenade launcher and a .50-caliber rifle during the raid.
  • Police in Cuernavaca, Morelos state, found a severed head on top of an abandoned car. A 2-meter wide banner draped over the car named local police officers allegedly involved in organized criminal activities. The head was found close to the building where marines killed the Beltran Leyva Organization leader in December 2009.
  • Several unconfirmed reports from a newspaper called "El Diario de Sinaloa" suggested that marines arrested Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada in Aguaje, Sinaloa state, near the town of Badiraguato. The reports, which were not confirmed by the National Defense Secretariat or other government branches, first emerged May 24 and suggested that Zambada was arrested with 10 other men. A later article indicated he had escaped.
  • Former Baja California Sur state Gov. Narciso Agundez Montano was arrested in Monterrey for alleged corruption. The charges are not obviously related to drug trafficking.
  • Unknown people shot three unidentified men while they washed cars in Chihuahua, Chihuahua state. Officials made no announcement regarding the incident.
  • Alleged members of the Knights Templar launched incendiary devices at a Sabritas distribution center in Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan state, damaging the building and several vehicles.

May 26

  • State authorities arrested 19 alleged Zetas members in Santa Catarina, Nuevo Leon state, during several operations.
  • Gunmen in a vehicle opened fire on individuals attending a dance near a public square in Ciudad Obregon, Sonora state, resulting in two dead and two wounded.
  • Alleged members of the Knights Templar launched incendiary devices at several installations belonging to Sabritas in Apatzingan and Uruapan, Michoacan state, and Celaya and Salvatierra, Guanajuato state.

May 27

  • Gunmen opened fire on the municipal headquarters in San Cristobal de la Barranca, Jalisco state. According to witnesses, approximately 40 gunmen shot at the building for 20 minutes. No deaths were reported.
  • Federal police arrested four individuals reportedly belonging to the Knights Templar in Salvatierra in connection with recent arson attacks on Sabritas installations. According to authorities, one of the detained men claimed responsibility and said the attacks were related to extortion.

May 28

  • Authorities discovered a dismembered body stored in several plastic bags in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state. One of the bags was marked "Z."
  • Authorities seized a drug lab in Tancitaro, Michoacan state. Approximately 200 liters (52.8 gallons) of an undisclosed precursor chemical were seized, but no arrests were reported.
  • Gunmen shot and killed three individuals traveling in a vehicle in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state.


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