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Oct 13, 2008 | 23:17 GMT

8 mins read

Mexico Security Memo: Oct. 13, 2008

Mexico Security Memo

Tijuana and Chihuahua Violence Remains High

The wave of violence that erupted last week in the Tijuana area showed no signs of slowing this past week. The death toll over a 14-day period has reached more than 100, as competing factions of the Arellano Felix organization have continued to battle each other, as well as outside cartels fighting for control of trafficking routes in the area. In one incident, a group of several men armed with assault rifles opened fire in a restaurant in the Rio Zone, a section of the city popular with tourists. Two people died and three were wounded in the attack. This past week also saw a spike in killings in Chihuahua state, where 24 people died in drug-related violence in less than 36 hours. In one case, armed men entered a bar in the capital city of Chihuahua and shot 11 people dead, including a journalist. Many witnesses considered this to be an act of indiscriminate killing, though the presence of a journalist — reporters are popular cartel targets — may simply mean this was a case of unrestrained or undisciplined force being used against a particular target. The incident is reminiscent of an attack in August in the nearby town of Bocoyna, where several armed men opened fire at a family gathering and killed 13 people. In both of these cases, whether the violence was indiscriminate remains unclear, though that is certainly a possibility.

Grenade Attacks and Targeting the U.S. Presence in Mexico

Many of the recent Chihuahua and Tijuana attacks that appear to have been the result of gang-to-gang rivalries have included targeted assassinations, abductions and drive-by shootings. Another tactic popular with Mexican drug trafficking organizations that occurred frequently this past week is the drive-by grenade attack. A grenade thrown from a distance into a parking lot or a few random bullets fired haphazardly at a building are not a very precise form of violence. This tactic, which is popular primarily against police buildings and newspaper offices, accordingly is used more for intimidation purposes rather than actually to cause significant damages or casualties. The targets this past week included police buildings in Jalisco and Sinaloa states, and, most notably, the U.S. Consulate building in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state. According to information available at this time, two unidentified men crashed a vehicle into the consulate's gate, fired several gunshots at the building, and threw a hand grenade that failed to detonate. Police are reportedly examining video from surveillance cameras, but have not identified the suspects or offered a motive for the attack. Reports of attacks against U.S. buildings and official personnel in Mexico have not been common over the last few years, despite the extensive counternarcotics support offered by the United States to the government of Mexico. As bilateral cooperation increases over the next few years under the Merida Initiative, U.S. officials may increasingly come to be viewed as legitimate targets for drug traffickers. Going after Drug Enforcement Administration, FBI, or State Department personnel in the country, however, risks bringing even greater involvement by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence services. A similar situation occurred after the 1985 murder of DEA special agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena, who was kidnapped, tortured and killed by members of a drug trafficking organization in Guadalajara. Shortly after Camarena's death, the DEA conducted a series of cross-border extraordinary renditions as it went after those responsible. It is probably premature to expect renditions at this point, but criminal groups would do well to recall U.S. capabilities when Washington is provoked.

Condemning the Independence Day Grenade Attack

Banners signed by the Gulf cartel appeared this past week in several cities in Mexico condemning the Sept. 15 grenade attack in Morelia, Michoacan state, and offering a $5 million reward for the capture of the perpetrators. The attack was the first clear case of indiscriminate killing of civilians in the country's drug war. The banners — which appeared in Reynosa, Tamaulpas state; Cancun, Quintana Roo state; Oaxaca state; and Mexico City — named several alleged members of Michoacan's La Familia crime organization as the primary suspects. At least one of the banners referred to the attack as an act of terrorism, and accused La Familia leaders of carrying out fundamentalist Islamic practices. While banners such as these are difficult to take at face value, they often provide important insights into Mexico's criminal world. It is interesting that the cartel has added its name to the list of violent groups that have distanced themselves from the Sept. 15 attack, assuming the Gulf cartel in fact placed the banners. In the days after the attack, media outlets received an e-mail signed by the Sinaloa cartel that condemned targeting innocents. Not long after, the left-wing militant group Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) — responsible for the bombing of oil and natural gas pipelines in 2007 but not for any deaths in the last three years — also released a statement condemning the attack. One of the biggest questions after the Sept. 15 attack was whether the indiscriminate killing of civilians would become a regular cartel tactic. Incidents such as the Chihuahua bar shooting suggest the question remains open. Intriguingly, however, many of the more powerful criminal organizations in Mexico have now sought to distance themselves from the attack. To be sure, Mexico has countless organized criminal groups, and any one of them might have no qualms about casually shooting up a crowd of civilians. The condemnations coming from the larger cartels, however, suggest such indiscriminate violence is not a tactic they plan to employ anytime soon. (click to view map)

Oct. 6

  • At least two armed men shot a presumed drug dealer at least 15 times, killing him, in Leon, Guanajuato state.
  • Police in Tijuana, Baja California state, found the body of an unidentified man with several gunshot wounds along with a note that read, "Send me another group of peons so that they run like girls. And don't be confused. The construction worker is the weakened engineer."
  • The body of an unidentified man was found in Cuitlahuac, Veracruz state, with a note allegedly signed by the Zetas that read, "This is what happens to the extortioners."
  • Police in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, found the body of a man with several gunshot wounds and his head covered in a towel along a drainage canal.

Oct. 8

  • A firefight erupted between Mexican army forces and a group of gunmen in Guadalupe, Zacatecas state, when assailants fired on a military patrol several hours after the soldiers raided a safe house in the city.
  • A group of several armed men entered a joint police-military barracks in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, presumably with the intention of kidnapping someone inside while the soldiers and police officers inside were eating. The gunmen withdrew when they were spotted by a police officer, who according to one report was so startled that he did not attempt to detain them.
  • Police found the body of an unidentified man with seven gunshot wounds in the face and several other wounds in a rural part of Morelos state.
  • The police chief of Jerecuaro, Guanajuato state, was shot dead by several armed men while driving with his wife and son in the nearby town of Acambaro.

Oct. 9

  • Police in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, discovered the bodies of two unidentified people with several gunshot wounds and wearing blindfolds.
  • At least 17 inmates escaped when they walked out the front door of a prison in Reynosa, Tamaulipas state. Officials stated that at least four guards had aided in the escape of the inmates, 14 of whom were being held on federal charges.
  • A firefight between police officers and alleged drug traffickers left at least five people dead, two of whom died as a result of fragmentation grenades thrown by the gunmen in Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco state.

Oct. 10

  • The body of a journalist working for a newspaper in Guerrero state was found with several gunshot wounds along a highway near Zihuatanejo.
  • A Sinaloa state police officer was wounded as he fled from would-be abductors who fired at him in Culiacan.
  • Two men traveling in a vehicle threw an explosive device believed to have been a fragmentation grenade at a police building in Zapopan, Jalisco state. No one was wounded in the incident.

Oct. 11

  • Two unidentified people were shot dead in their home in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. Each had been shot in the head at close range.

Oct. 12

  • Two men were found dead along a highway near Guadalupe, Nuevo Leon state, with single gunshot wounds to the head and signs of torture on their bodies.

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