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Mar 3, 2008 | 23:21 GMT

8 mins read

Mexico Security Memo: March 3, 2008

Mexico Security Memo

Response to the Tip Line

Drug violence in Mexico was widespread this past week, with killings occurring in nearly a dozen states, including the increasingly violent Tijuana area of Baja California. Federal troops have operated for months in the area, where criminal activities are almost exclusively controlled by elements of the Arellano Felix Organization, also known as the Tijuana cartel. As part of its plan to combat the cartel's control of the city, the Mexican army opened an Internet and telephone tip line, which residents are encouraged to use to report suspicious drug-related activity. Several weeks ago, the cartel responded by killing up to 10 suspected informants, leaving notes with the bodies alluding to the tip line. Remarkably, residents in the area have continued to phone in tips to the army, which reported drug seizures this past week that were carried out based on information provided by locals. While this is good news for security forces, it also raises the concern that citizens uninvolved in the drug trade could become victims of the country's powerful drug trafficking groups. The cartels enjoy no small degree of prestige within certain portions of the population, making many citizens reluctant to cooperate with authorities. While intimidation is still a powerful deterrent, continued targeting of civilians could erode cartel prestige among the populace.

El Patron and the IED

In the investigation of a Feb. 15 improvised explosive device (IED) detonation in Mexico City, at least 11 suspects have been implicated in the attack so far, four of whom are not in police custody. Information from three of the suspects in custody has led investigators to conclude that the bombing was planned as an assassination attempt against a high-ranking Mexico City police official. The IED was to be delivered to the target by members of a drug gang from the Tepito neighborhood of the capital. However, the device detonated prematurely en route, killing the would-be bomber and wounding an accomplice. Since the day of the blast, authorities have suspected that the Sinaloa cartel was behind the assassination attempt. The case against Sinaloa strengthened this past week as investigators announced that a Sinaloa cartel operative known by the nickname El Patron is suspected of having ordered the bombing. As early as Feb. 8, Tepito gang members began plotting the attack on the police official on orders from El Patron. Officials have alleged that Mexico City police officers on the drug gang's payroll supplied information about the targeted police official that assisted in the planning of the attack. Little is known about El Patron other than his nickname and possible appearance; federal officials will distribute a sketch of his face this week to Mexican law enforcement agencies. Information about his relationship with Tepito gangs suggests he operates as the Sinaloa cartel gatekeeper responsible for drug distribution in Mexico City. In this role he would have extensive contacts with local gangs hired to perform a variety of tasks on behalf of Sinaloa. In exchange for carrying out these tasks, local gang members have access to Sinaloa's supply of illegal weapons. The assassination of a police official is among the orders gatekeepers commonly issue to local gangs on their payroll, and such a request would not necessarily require authorization from someone higher up in the chain of command. One question that remains murky in the IED investigation is the identity of the bomb maker. Whether he belongs to the Sinaloa cartel or a local Mexico City gang, and whether he was the suspect killed in the explosion, are important questions, the answers to which could shed light on the likelihood of future IED attacks. It is also unclear whether the use of a bomb was ordered by the Sinaloa cartel or if the Tepito gang made the choice of an explosive over a gun on its own. Until all these questions are answered, it will be difficult to assess the prospect of drug trafficking organizations making regular use of IEDs.

Feb. 25

  • Police in rural Sonora state shot and killed a man suspected of cultivating marijuana after the man fired on the officers when they approached the planted field.
  • The body of an unidentified woman was discovered with her head wrapped in cloth along a highway near Tijuana, Baja California state.
  • A businessman kidnapped 12 days before was rescued by police in Tijuana, Baja California state. Police also arrested a suspect who was guarding the victim in a house. Authorities searched the house after a pedestrian found notes that the victim had written on toilet paper and tossed out the window onto the sidewalk.
  • Four prisoners escaped from a prison near Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state. Fourteen guards were accused of assisting in the escape, in which the prisoners crawled through a tunnel to a nearby parking lot where a car was waiting.
  • Authorities in Playas de Rosarito, Baja California state, reported the discovery of human remains believed to belong to more than one victim.
  • Two alleged drug dealers were shot to death in a house just north of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state. According to one report, a group of heavily armed men entered the home and shot the victims at least 10 times each.
  • Five people were wounded, including one police officer, during a firefight between state police and a suspected drug and kidnapping gang in Merida, Yucatan state.

Feb. 26

  • A group of men armed with assault rifles and riding in three vehicles shot and killed three men in Durango, Durango state.
  • Five bodies were discovered in an improvised grave in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. A total of 12 bodies were found in improvised graves in the state over the past week.
  • A police commander was shot to death in Chihuahua, Chihuahua state, by two men outside a police building.
  • Up to 2,300 federal forces were sent to northern Tamaulipas state to participate in a security operation in several Mexican cities along the Texas border.
  • Police in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, arrested eight members of an alleged kidnapping gang on charges of kidnapping, auto theft and possession of illegal weapons. The group is accused of three kidnappings in the state, where organized criminal activity is less frequent than in the rest of the country.

Feb. 27

  • A group of up to 30 armed men abducted seven forest workers from a work site in Durango state.
  • An Iraqi citizen traveling under a false passport was detained in the Monterrey airport after he arrived on a flight from Madrid, Spain.
  • A man in Sinaloa state was shot to death by two men wearing police uniforms.
  • Two men died after they were shot by gunmen near a gas station in Palomas, Chihuahua state.

Feb. 28

  • Police officers responding to a call for help at a house in the San Nicolas suburb of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, were fired on from gunmen in the house. No casualties were reported.
  • Police in Mexico state exchanged gunfire with armed men, killing one, who was reported to have been a former police officer.
  • Three people were killed in separate incidents in Sinaloa state. Two of the victims were shot to death, while the body of another was discovered in a plastic bag.
  • Authorities in Villahermosa, Tabasco state, discovered the decapitated body of a man near the city's airport.

Feb. 29

  • Seven people were shot to death by a group of gunmen in Sinaloa state. The victims, whose identities were not released, were killed while they were inside an automotive repair shop.

March 1

  • Federal authorities arrested three police officers on weapons charges in the Escobedo suburb outside Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.
  • A man in Tacambaro, Michoacan state, was shot to death and his body left on the side of a highway.

March 2

  • Three presumed drug dealers were shot to death nearly simultaneously in separate incidents in an area north of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.

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