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Sep 13, 2010 | 20:03 GMT

9 mins read

Mexico Security Memo: Sept. 13, 2010

Mexico Security Memo

Failed Juarez IED Attack

Federal Police in Juarez, Chihuahua state, received an anonymous phone call late Sept. 10 about a dead body located inside a Ford Escape parked in the Omega Industrial Park in northern Juarez, less than a mile from the U.S. border. Federal Police did indeed find a corpse inside a blue Ford Escape at the stated location, but they also noticed a nearby red Volkswagen Derby with no license plate and its doors wide open approximately 6 meters (20 feet) away. Upon further inspection of the Volkswagen, Federal Police observed what they thought were explosives in the vehicle. This prompted them hastily to retreat a safe distance from both vehicles and to cordon off the area. A Federal Police explosives team was called in at approximately 2:30 a.m. local time to investigate with specialized equipment. The explosives team found the Volkswagen to contain approximately 16 kilograms (35 pounds) of the mining-grade explosive Tovex, two detonators, ammonium nitrate-diesel fuel mixture and a detonation cord. An explosives ordnance disposal team from the Mexican military arrived on the scene at 3:30 a.m. and conducted a controlled detonation of the device, rendering it safe at approximately 4:50 a.m. and damaging only the Volkswagen in the process. Whether the device initially failed to detonate or if first responders managed to defuse it before it went off remains unclear. According to media reports, the construction of the improvised explosive device (IED) — from the materials used to the sequence of the firing chain — and the tactics used in the deployment of the device are strikingly similar to an IED that successfully detonated in Juarez on July 15 and which also targeted Federal Police and other first responders. The Sept. 10 device reportedly was much larger, however. The similarity of the July 15 and Sept. 10 devices suggests the bombmaker remains at large and was not among the suspects detained in connection with the July 15 attack. This failed IED attack comes as reprisal killings on both sides of the conflict in Juarez, which pits the Sinaloa cartel against the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (VCF, aka the Juarez cartel), have spiked. In a span of three hours Sept. 9, 25 people were killed on opposite sides of the city in both Sinaloa and VCF territory. (Sinaloa controls southern and eastern Juarez while the VCF controls western Juarez.) La Linea, the enforcement wing of the VCF, reportedly carried out the July 15 IED attack in response to allegations that members of the Federal Police work for Sinaloa and its leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera. Narcomantas, or publicly displayed cartel messages, and other graffiti around Juarez from La Linea said the group would deploy more and far larger IEDs in retaliation for this alleged cooperation. The Sept. 10 IED incident probably represented an escalation of the recent spate of retaliatory killings. The Sept. 10 incident also reinforces that when La Linea and VCF take big hits from either Sinaloa or Mexican security forces, they will escalate their tactics to try to draw down the pressure on their organization — even though the July 15 escalation brought it only intensified scrutiny.

Arrest of 'El Grande'

Sergio "El Grande" Villarreal Barragan was arrested along with two other individuals in a Mexican naval special forces operation in Puebla, Puebla state, the afternoon of Sept. 12, in the culmination of a 10-month investigation. Approximately 30 Mexican naval special forces surrounded an upscale residence in the Puerta de Hierro neighborhood of Puebla, supported by a helicopter and five vehicles. The military personnel secured the area around the residence, alerting neighbors to stay indoors and locking the neighborhood's security guards in their guard post and refusing to let them make phone calls. A tipoff regarding Villarreal's planned time of departure from the residence allowed the military personnel to position themselves throughout the property and apprehend Villarreal as he exited the residence without a single shot. The navy said information from the United States, Colombia and several Central American states also played a role in the capture of Villarreal. Villarreal, a veteran of the Mexican drug trafficking scene, most recently held the No. 2 position in the newly formed Cartel Pacifico Sur (CPS), rising from the faction of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) led by Hector Beltran Leyva. Villarreal began his drug trafficking career working for former Juarez cartel leader Amado Carrillo Fuentes in the mid-1990s. After Carrillo's death in 1997, Villarreal developed a relationship with the Beltran Leyva brothers — Hector and Arturo — who at the time belonged to the Sinaloa cartel. Villarreal's relationship with Hector was especially close, and soon after BLO split from the Sinaloa Federation in late 2007-early 2008, Villarreal quickly rose to the upper echelons of leadership in the BLO. After the death of Arturo in December 2009, Villarreal soon became the front man for the faction of the BLO that remained loyal to Hector in the fight for control of the greater BLO against Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villarreal. When authorities captured Valdez Villarreal on Aug. 31 near Salazar, Mexico state, they discovered vast amounts of information on his trafficking operations and the inner workings of the cartel underworld. According to STRATFOR sources in the Mexican government, this trove of information included the whereabouts of Valdez Villarreal's two biggest enemies: Hector Beltran Leyva and Sergio Villarreal Barragan. Villarreal's Sept. 12 arrest likely resulted from the information garnered from Valdez Villarreal's property and his interrogation. Villarreal's arrest undoubtedly will provide Mexican authorities similar intelligence on CPS operations and perhaps additional information on Hector's whereabouts. The BLO is much reduced from its heyday with the Sinaloa Federation in the previous decade. Its leadership has been reduced to just Hector, and it now appears that it is only a matter of time before he, too, falls into the hands of Mexican authorities. The demise of the BLO and its offshoots opens up a broad swath of territory along the southwestern Pacific coast of Mexico. While elements of the CPS and the New Cartel of the Sierra — the name adopted by BLO members loyal to Valdez Villarreal — are dispersed throughout the region, groups like La Familia Michoacana (LFM) and the Sinaloa Federation either have or have had an established presence in the region, positioning them to seize control of the various trafficking routes. LFM and Sinaloa currently work together from within the New Federation to battle Los Zetas, but competition over the territories of Guerrero, Morelos and Mexico states could bring this cooperation to an abrupt halt — and could lead to more violence in the region down the road. (click here to view interactive graphic)

Sept. 7

  • Unidentified attackers injured two policemen in a patrol vehicle with a grenade in the Ferrocarrileros neighborhood of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.
  • Police in the Jardines de Guadalupe neighborhood of Zapopan, Jalisco state, freed two kidnapping victims and arrested several suspected kidnappers; two people were injured.
  • Police discovered two dismembered bodies near a children's museum in Chilpancingo, Guerrero state. A message attributing the crime to the New Cartel of the Sierra was found nearby.

Sept. 8

  • Police arrested five suspected members of Los Zetas in Tepeapulco, Hidalgo state.
  • Mexican marines in the municipality of Santa Catarina, Nuevo Leon state, arrested four suspected kidnappers and freed a kidnapping victim during a raid on a house in the Prados neighborhood.
  • National Security Council spokesman Alejandro Poire confirmed that seven members of Los Zetas who allegedly participated in the massacre of 72 migrants in Tamaulipas state were arrested in two military operations in Tamaulipas.
  • Soldiers arrested Jorge Alberto Gonzalez Escorcia, aka "El Coyote," who is suspected of collaborating with Valdez Villarreal, in Morelos state.

Sept. 9

  • Police in Nezahualcoyotl, Mexico state, arrested 16 suspected kidnappers believed to be part of LFM.
  • Police in Naucalpan, Mexico state, arrested eight suspected members of LFM in the process of attacking a local bar.
  • Police arrested two suspected kidnappers who allegedly belonged to the "Del 7" kidnapping group in Tlalnepantla, Mexico state.

Sept. 10

  • Approximately 85 prisoners escaped from a prison in Reynosa, Tamaulipas state. Two guards were reported missing after the escape.
  • Unidentified people posted signs in Zitacuaro, Michoacan state, denying any LFM role in recent extortions in the area.
  • Unidentified gunmen killed three people and injured five others during an attack on a car near Choix, Sinaloa state.

Sept. 11

  • Police in Mexico City arrested two Colombian citizens suspected of collaborating with Valdez Villarreal, identified as Dario Emilio Valencia and Victor Espinosa Valencia.
  • Authorities removed the director of the prison in Cancun, Quintana Roo state, after a suspected Zeta gunman revealed that the director allegedly protected Los Zetas.

Sept. 12

  • The mayor of Texcoco, Mexico state, confirmed the presence of organized crime groups in the city but said it would not be necessary to deploy the military there.
  • Soldiers in Amacueca, Jalisco state, arrested Juan Francisco Aguilar Santana, a suspected local chief for the Sinaloa cartel, and eight others.
  • Unidentified gunmen killed the police chief of Ocotlan, Jalisco state, during his commute.

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