Re-Branding a Criminal Group
At least 10 narcomantas signed by the New Juarez Cartel (NCJ), a criminal group that first made its existence known in mid-2011, were found Jan. 25 throughout Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. The narcomantas openly threatened Juarez police chief Julian Leyzaola, calling him a criminal with a police badge. In one message, the NCJ said it would kill one police officer every day until Leyzaola discontinued his support of the group's rivals — specifically, the Sinaloa Federation — and stopped arresting group members. Authorities may heed the threat; more than 10 municipal police officers in Juarez were killed in January.
Little is known about this criminal group other than what is revealed through its messages. In September, the group released a video of its members interrogating a prison guard believed to be working with the Sinaloa Federation (the guard was later found dead). And in October, a message signed by the NCJ was left with a dismembered body. Stratfor believes the NCJ is likely a new moniker — a re-branding effort involving the "original" Juarez cartel, the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization (VCF); its enforcer group, La Linea; and possibly other criminal elements opposed to Sinaloa encroachment into Juarez.
What we do know is that the VCF has degraded substantially since 2008, when the Sinaloa Federation began to hit the VCF hard in its home territory. In fact, Sinaloa has encircled Juarez; recent evidence suggests it is tightening its grip on the city and on the VCF. At present, the VCF is a shell of its former self, weakened by a more powerful Sinaloa adversary.
Meanwhile, La Linea has suffered key leadership losses. In July and August 2011, several narcomantas antagonizing U.S. government agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, were posted throughout Juarez. La Linea supposedly signed these messages. The group also reportedly threatened to conduct vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attacks against the U.S. Consulate. It is possible that a rival group deliberately misattributed these threats to La Linea in an effort to incite U.S. reprisal. After the arrest of "El Coman 2," the La Linea leader who was detained in August shortly after he took charge of the criminal group, more narcomantas signed by La Linea appeared. These banners said the Sinaloa Federation wrote the previous messages provoking the U.S. government.
Whether or not La Linea purposefully invited the ire of the U.S. government, the group now has every reason to don a new name. (La Linea also has a long history of brutality in the Juarez area; many locals were extorted or kidnapped by the group.) It is unclear whether the NCJ is composed solely of former La Linea and VCF elements or of numerous elements that have aligned, even temporarily, to extricate Sinaloa from Juarez. Notably, La Linea undertook an offensive against Juarez municipal police in 2010 citing the same reason the NCJ gives for its own offensive: perceived police favor of the Sinaloa Federation. We have seen several targeted killings of police officers in Juarez in January, and we can anticipate more killings as long as the NCJ believes the Sinaloa Federation has a favored status. However, police assassinations likely will beget retributive killings and arrests, and the NCJ is already facing a superior adversary in the Sinaloa Federation, as well as the government. Therefore, the NCJ's ascendancy in Juarez will be limited. We do not believe violence in 2012 will be as severe as it was in 2010.
An Empty Threat?
The threat against municipal police in Juarez is grave, however limited the NCJ's tenure proves. Since October 2011, some 60 police officers have been killed, and at least 11 police officers have been killed in at least six incidents in January alone.
On Jan. 24, unidentified gunmen killed two municipal police officers en route to a police station. On Jan. 27, two police officers in a non-official vehicle were killed by gunmen traveling in a black SUV. On Jan. 28, a police officer was pulled out of his car and executed in the street. Then on Jan. 30, gunmen ambushed police at a street intersection. Three police officers were wounded and three gunmen killed in the attack. While the NCJ has claimed all these killings, we have been unable to confirm their claims.
Local law enforcement may respond to the recent spate of police killings by increasing their efforts against suspected NCJ members. Such operations will benefit the Sinaloa cartel, even if they are not intended to.
- Unidentified individuals intercepted a police patrol vehicle in Tezonapa, Veracruz state, forcing the two police officers out of the vehicle. The subjects beat the officers and set the vehicle on fire before fleeing.
- Gunmen killed two municipal police officers at a street intersection in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. The officers were traveling to a police station when the gunmen attacked them. A total of 48 spent shell casings from .223 caliber and 9 mm weapons were recovered at the scene.
- Mexican soldiers seized a drug lab while doing surveillance in Culiacan, Sinaloa state. The seizure includes 921 liters (243 gallons) of liquid methamphetamine equivalent to approximately 460 kilograms (about 1,000 pounds) of solid methamphetamine; 161 kilograms of solid methamphetamine; 280 kilograms of phenyl acetic acid; 7,248 kilograms of caustic soda; 1,280 kilograms of tartaric acid; 260 kilograms of sodium acetate; and 10 kilograms of mercury chloride. There were no arrests during the seizure. The amount of tartaric acid, which is applied during the final stages of meth production, was capable of producing about 640 more kilograms of methamphetamine.
- Federal police killed four gunmen in a confrontation outside a bar in Guadalupe, Zacatecas state. Two gunmen were killed in the firefight and two were killed while trying to flee in a vehicle.
- The Mexican military seized 946 kilograms of marijuana in a large black SUV in Sonoyta, Sonora state, after its occupants abandoned the vehicle and fled.
- The bodies of a man and woman were found near a dock in El Batamote, near Culiacan, Sinaloa state. The man was decapitated, with his head placed near his feet. The bodies were left with a message that read, "For continuing to steal cars. AAAA."
- Mexican authorities located the body of lawyer Daniel Jaime Nunez in Atoyac de Alvarez, Guerrero state. Nunez sustained a gunshot wound to the head and was left with a note that stated, "This will happen to all kidnappers, extortionists, and robbers."
- Narcomantas addressed to Ciudad Juarez Police Chief Julian Leyzaola and signed "NCJ" for the New Juarez Cartel, were placed in at least 10 separate locations in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. The messages threatened to kill a police officer daily unless Layzaola stopped supporting NCJ's rivals and arresting NCJ members.
- In central Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, gunmen pulled at least eight individuals out of vehicles near a street corner, then shot and killed them. The gunmen left a narcomanta reportedly addressed to a rival gang; authorities have not revealed the contents of the message. A ninth body was discovered nearby, but her connection to the other victims is unknown.
- A group of 15 gunmen entered a bar in Neza, Mexico state, where they shot and killed three individuals who were at a table. According to witnesses, the gunmen arrived at the bar in two vehicles. The gunmen fled the scene before police arrived.
- Gunmen inside a vehicle attacked Mexican military elements in Praxedis G. Guerrero, Chihuahua state. The military repelled the attack and managed to detain three of the gunmen. During the arrest, the military seized three assault rifles, one sidearm, 289 rounds of various calibers and 6.5 kilograms of marijuana. The gunmen allegedly belong to La Gente Nueva, a Sinaloa Federation enforcer group.
- Gunmen opened fire on an escort traveling with Manuel Anorve Banos, the mayor of Acapulco, Guerrero state. As the mayor and the police escorting him were approaching the gunmen on a street, the gunmen opened fire, killing a police officer and a city employee. Authorities found at least 20 casings for an AK-47 at the scene.
- Gunmen dragged two bound women from a vehicle and shot both in the head in front of a primary school in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state. The women were semi-nude with bound hands and fabric covering their heads. A wall behind where the women were shot had "Zeta" and "Z" written in several places.
- In Zapopan, Jalisco state, Mexican federal police detained seven members of the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), including one leader, Abundio "El Guero Abundis" Mendoza Gaytan. The arrests were the result of ongoing surveillance of the criminal group by federal forces. The arrested individuals are allegedly connected to kidnapping and extortion and responsible for coordinating the sale and distribution of drugs.
- State and municipal police in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, arrested 204 individuals at La Eternidad bar in order to question them about the Jan. 25 execution of eight people at a street corner and three women found elsewhere in the area. Authorities stated that the individuals were arrested because the victims of the shooting were last seen at the bar. La Eternidad is located near El Sabino Gordo bar, where gunmen murdered 20 individuals on July 8, 2011.
- Two gunmen killed a woman as she was leaving her house for work in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. The subject initiated a conversation with the woman before shooting her at least twice.
- A gunman killed two police officers in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, as the police officers were traveling in a non-official vehicle. The gunman intercepted the vehicle while traveling in a black SUV with other individuals.
- Unidentified individuals shot and killed Jose Luis Zea Frescas, a regional public defense coordinator, in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. He was killed while driving his personal vehicle. The victim sustained five shots from a .40 caliber weapon.
- The dismembered body of an employee at a criminal court in Guerrero state was found in the trunk of a car along with a narcomanta. The narcomanta stated that a similar fate awaited anyone who supported Victor Aguirre and prison director Antelmo Rodriguez Salgado. The message was signed "El Chapo."
- Mexican authorities found the bodies of three individuals on a soccer field in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. All three were male and had been handcuffed and gagged before being executed.
- Unidentified individuals in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, pulled a municipal police officer out of his vehicle, then shot and killed him. The officer was driving his personal vehicle after leaving work. The murder brings the number of municipal police officers killed in Ciudad Juarez in January 2012 to 11.
- The Mexican military killed two gunmen in Cadereyta, Nuevo Leon state, during a firefight. The confrontation began when the gunmen attacked the military vehicle during a patrol.
- Mexican authorities discovered seven bodies in a clandestine grave in Ejutla, Jalisco state. Four of the bodies had been burned; the other three were decomposing.
- Gunmen shot and killed five men in a residence in Tijuana, Baja California state. According to survivors of the attack, armed men entered the residence, ordered the women in the house to lie on the floor, and then took the males to the kitchen, where the gunmen shot them. The brother of one of the victims of the attack was a former municipal police officer who had worked for Sinaloa and was head of security for Alfredo "El Aquiles" Arteaga Gonzalez, a Sinaloa cartel operator in Baja California state.
- Mexican authorities announced the arrest of Roberto Lopez "El Chato" Virgen, a leader of the CJNG in Colima, Colima state, along with that of two other individuals. According to authorities, Lopez was one of the primary leaders of CJNG in Colima state. Lopez was injured during a shootout with authorities prior to his arrest.
- Mexican authorities in Acapulco, Guerrero state, arrested three individuals who were carrying the remains of a dismembered body, along with nine narcomantas, in their vehicle. After being discovered by authorities, the three individuals attempted to flee and then engaged in a firefight with authorities. No one was injured as a result of the firefight. At least two of the narcomantas' signatures included La Gente Nueva and El Chapo Comando Del Diablo.
- A prison riot at the Aquiles Serdan prison in Chihuahua state resulted in the death of four inmates and injury of at least seven others. The riot erupted after a gangfight between Los Aztecas and Los Mexicles using makeshift weapons.
- Mexican authorities announced the arrest of Enrique Elizondo "El Arabe" Flores, aka El Cuervo, a Los Zetas operator in Nuevo Leon state. According to authorities, Elizondo confessed to the murder of 75 individuals. Elizondo belonged to a Los Zetas cell that operated in Cerralvo, Paras, Agualeguas, and General Trevino. He was arrested Jan. 20 in Salinas Victoria, Nuevo Leon state.
- Gunmen traveling in six vehicles ambushed municipal police at a street intersection in Ciudad Juarez while the police officers were filling up their vehicles at a gas station. The police repelled the ambush, killing three of the gunmen. Three police officers were wounded.
- A man's body was discovered in front of his residence in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, hours after unidentified individuals removed the man from his home. The man was found with his hands and feet tied. The man's neighbors said he had been involved in the drug trade.