Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mexican drug hitmen kill singer near U.S. border

More singers! It's enough to make me switch to playing bass. No one would be evil enough to kill the bass player.

TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - Drug hitmen have killed a popular Mexican singer along with his manager and assistant near the U.S. border, authorities said on Wednesday, the latest murder among musicians who sing "narcocorrido" ballads glorifying drug traffickers.

The body of Jesus Rey David Alfaro, known as "The Little Rooster," was one of six that turned up tortured, murdered and pinned with threatening messages for Mexico's army last week in the border town of Tijuana near San Diego.

"We believe Alfaro had links to the Arellano Felix cartel," said an official with the Baja California state attorney general's office who declined to be named.

The official was referring to Tijuana's main drug smuggling cartel, which is fighting a gory turf war with traffickers from Mexico's Pacific state of Sinaloa, led by the country's most-wanted man, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman.

At least half a dozen Mexican folk singers, who play narcocorridos and upbeat, brassy "grupera" music, have been killed since Mexico's drug war flared in 2006.

Alfaro, a regular act at Tijuana's biggest bars and music halls, was found covered in a blanket in wasteland on the edge of the city with rope marks around his neck, suggesting he was tortured before he was shot in the head, the attorney general's office said.

Drug hitmen pinned a message on his body saying "You'll be next," a taunt aimed at the thousands of soldiers sent by President Felipe Calderon to Tijuana to crush the drug gangs and clean up police forces working with the cartels.

Tijuana, long a transit point for narcotics heading to the United States, has seen a spike in murders this past year, with drug gangs even killing children. More than 2,500 people were killed in drug violence in Mexico last year and at least 320 people have died so far this year.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz, editing by Todd Eastham)

Mexican drug hitmen kill singer near U.S. border - Yahoo! News

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Drug War Mayhem Boils Over From Border to Border

Even areas that one would assume would be very secure, like the Mexico City Airport, are not. It's a long and interesting article from a pretty lefty magazine.

Tourists touching down at Mexico City International Airport are hereby forewarned not to trip over the human heads that may be rolling around at your feet when you disembark. Four have been found in recent weeks in and around the terminal complex although their corresponding bodies have not yet been located.

It continues here:

John Ross: Drug War Mayhem Boils Over From Border to Border

Meanwhile, Calderon's military offensive has failed to stem the harvest of death. Last year, with the troops in the field, 2791 victims (7.3 a day) were registered by authorities, 500 more than the 2221 counted in 2006 when the army was still under wraps. During the first 15 days of 2008, 114 victims were recorded - 11.7 a day - compared with 174 for the entire month of January 2007 - perhaps a fifth of the dead were beheaded or otherwise mutilated.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Drug violence has moved into Mexico City

Crackdowns pushing cartels into capital, against government

08:46 AM CST on Friday, February 8, 2008

MEXICO CITY – Long a meeting place for Mexican drug cartels and their Colombian suppliers, this sprawling capital is now on the front lines of the government's drug war after the discovery of paramilitary narco cells planning a high-level assassination with possible collaboration of city police and former army soldiers.

The cells, uncovered in upscale neighborhoods favored by politicians and entertainers, had huge stockpiles of high-powered weapons, including grenade- and rocket-launchers, designed to penetrate the highest level of armor.

Juarez locked in deadly power struggle over drug cartels

"Mexico City was a peaceful place for narcos, as they coexisted with the government. But now it's beginning to look a lot like Bogotá," said Raul Benítez, a military and national security expert at the National Autonomous University. "Mexico City residents are not used to this kind of narco-violence, and that's sending shock waves across the population."

In the latest incident, the editor of El Real newspaper was shot to death Thursday as he drove in the Mexico City suburb of Chimalhuacán. And on Wednesday, Mexican authorities said they seized more than two tons of ephedrine – a chemical used to make amphetamines – at the capital's international airport, which has become an important transit point for drugs and weapons.

The ephedrine had been shipped from China in 155 boxes and was destined, through the Mexican Postal Service, for clandestine labs in the states of Colima, Jalisco, Aguascalientes, Michoacán and Mexico, officials said.

The latest military crackdown against cartels began Jan. 1 in cities like Nuevo Laredo, a Gulf cartel stronghold, and Culiacán, a Sinaloa cartel stronghold. The pressure may be pushing cartel operatives to more anonymous settings, such as the Mexico City metropolitan area, with its 18 million people.

After one raid late last month in the nation's capital, the head of intelligence for the capital's Judicial Police resigned amid reports that he was being investigated for allegedly providing bulletproof vests to a Sinaloa cartel hit squad that had set up shop in a tony southern Mexico City neighborhood.

In another recent bust, active police officers and former soldiers allegedly confessed to planning the assassination of a high-level official in the attorney general's office who has overseen the record number of extraditions of drug lords to the U.S.

The official, José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, said his would-be assassins were likely working for the Sinaloa cartel, but they could have been working the Gulf cartel based on the Mexico-Texas border.

"I don't think I'm the most popular guy with any of them," he said in a radio interview.

Bigger battles

Analysts and officials say the recent activities show the rapid "Colombianization" of Mexico, a reference to the Colombian cartels' attacks on high-level law enforcement, judges, politicians and journalists during the 1980s and early 1990s in the city's top cities, including the capital, Bogotá.

And it's no longer just cartels battling each other for territory and control of smuggling routes, but cartels battling the government in the face of the crackdown.

"There's no difference between a Pablo Escobar in Colombia and a Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano," said a U.S. anti-drug official, comparing the fallen Colombian drug capo to Mr. Lazcano, the alleged head of the Zetas, the paramilitary enforcement arm of the Gulf cartel. The Zetas have adopted violent confrontations with the government, much like their Colombian counterparts did in retaliation for the extradition of South American drug figures to the U.S.

President Felipe Calderón's government is unwavering in its crackdown, Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora vowed in a meeting with citizen groups that demanded results in their Mexico City neighborhoods.

"There will be no retreat," said Mr. Medina Mora. "We are not going to take a step back."

But in Mexico City, tough words will be increasingly scrutinized.

"On the border, the national media tend to ignore these issues," Mr. Medina Mora said. "That won't be the case here, and that will pose great risks for Calderón if he doesn't deliver."

Mexico City has long suffered from high levels of street crime and police corruption, but it had been relatively immune from the daily killings and cartel turf wars that have become features of border cities like Nuevo Laredo, Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana.

Last week, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard met with Bogotá's former mayor, Antanas Mokus, and solicited advice on dealing with the security challenges ahead.

The nation's capital has historically been a haven for drug traffickers, some of whom have lived side by side with some of the nation's elite. It's a place for financial operations and other transactions.

In August and September of last year, three of Mexico's most wanted were captured in Mexico City, including Juan Carlos de la Cruz Reyna, the alleged Gulf cartel link to Colombian suppliers, who were also arrested having lunch in the upscale Polanco neighborhood.

In mid-January, the Mexico City newspaper Reforma cited a city government study that said a police cartel was involved in moving drugs through the capital's international airport.

Recent drug seizures at the airport have sparked apparent retaliation against private customs brokers via al-Qaeda-style beheadings. After the Dec. 12 seizure of a half-ton of cocaine at the airport, three such brokers were executed and two of them had their heads severed, airport officials said. Allegedly, the Gulf cartel and its Zetas were involved in those killings.

Amid the growing violence, more than 500 city police have been stationed at the newly expanded international airport, the target of narco-traffickers fighting for control, officials say. An airport spokesman insisted the airport is safe for all passengers.

Conflicting reports

Mexico City police officials have differed on the level of penetration of the narcos, with Police Chief Joel Ortega acknowledging the phenomenon and Attorney General Rodolfo Félix Cárdenas saying there is no evidence the cartels have set up shop in the capital.

"We don't know if they are operating continuously in Mexico City," the city attorney general told reporters.

Despite the assurances, Ricardo McGregor, the head of intelligence for the attorney general's Judicial Police, resigned late last month after federal officials said he was under investigation on suspicion of providing the bulletproof vests seized in a recent raid on alleged Sinaloa operatives.

Mr. McGregor denied any wrongdoing and said he stepped down to facilitate the investigation. He said that the bulletproof vests were stolen from an armored car company that he used to work for, but that it happened during an armed robbery on the streets of Mexico City.

Up to 30 agents in the unit then failed to show up for work, according to media reports.

Meanwhile, neighbors of the narcos in Mexico City were caught off-guard by the discovery of narco cells next door.

Along the cobblestone streets of San Ángel, Jardines del Pedregal and Coyoacán they spoke in hushed tones and asked their names not be used for fear of retaliation.

A 41-year-old woman walking her dog in Coyoacán remarked, "I'm sure there are hundreds of other houses packed with narcos. We're not alone."

A mile away in San Ángel, a 71-year-old whispered, "Dios mío! I'm afraid to leave my house, and we're not on the border."

News assistant Javier García contributed to this report.

Drug violence has moved into Mexico City | Dallas Morning News | News for Dallas, Texas | Mexico News

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Kidnappings of U.S. citizens on rise

Another Mexican crime wave that is slowly moving north.

Sophisticated Mexican groups plot abductions

By Tony Manolatos

February 6, 2008

Organized, well-financed and violent Mexican kidnapping cells are targeting a growing number of U.S. citizens visiting communities popular with San Diegans and other California residents.

Last year, at least 26 San Diego County residents were kidnapped and held for ransom in Tijuana, Rosarito Beach or Ensenada, local FBI agents overseeing the cases said yesterday. In 2006, at least 11 county residents had been kidnapped in the three communities.
“Some of the 26 were recovered, some were hurt and some were killed,” said agent Alex Horan, who directs the FBI's violent-crime squad in San Diego.

“It's not a pleasant experience. Victims have reported beatings, torture and there have been rapes. . . . Handcuffs and hoods over the head are common,” he said.

When contrasted to the 40 million border crossings made every year at the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the kidnapping numbers are small. Most of the victims have business interests or family members in Mexico.

But authorities said anyone planning to visit Mexico should be cautious.


The number of San Diego County residents kidnapped in Tijuana, Rosarito Beach and Ensenada rose sharply last year:

2008: 2

2007: 26

2006: 11

2005: 10

Source: FBI San Diego office

“I would certainly be concerned,” Horan said.

The U.S. Consulate in Tijuana issued a travel advisory last week that said U.S. citizens living and traveling in Mexico should be extra vigilant.

Gunfights and other violence linked to drug cartels have increased in Baja California, and more Mexican citizens have been kidnapped lately.

While some of the groups suspected of kidnapping Americans are connected to drug trafficking, most aren't, Horan said.

He described the kidnapping groups as sophisticated operations similar to terrorist cells, each with a boss and clear divisions of labor. Usually, one group is involved in scouting, another carries out the kidnapping, a third holds the victim and a fourth handles the ransom.

“They know who they're going after. I think they have a list,” Horan said. “These are kidnapping cells. . . . That's what they do. They do kidnappings all year long.”

While the FBI wouldn't say what the ransom demands are, or how often they're paid, agents said money is driving the increase.

“This is not about terrorizing people or retaliating. This is about making money, and obviously this is good business for them,” Horan said.

The scenario that fits about 90 percent of the FBI's kidnapping cases starts with a middle-class family with no criminal ties, who live in communities such as Chula Vista, San Diego and National City.

The family typically owns a business in Mexico and has relatives there. At least one family member, usually a man in his 40s, makes several personal and professional trips across the border.

While driving in Mexico, this person is pulled over by as many as 10 people posing as police.

They're carrying weapons, wearing vests and using police jargon. Within a minute or two, someone is shoving a hood over the victim's head and dragging him into a vehicle. His car is left on the side of the road.

“We've had victims held for days to months,” Horan said.

Not every victim is Hispanic, but there have been “very few cases where a tourist is targeted at random,” said Eric Drickersen, who supervises the FBI's border liaison office in San Diego.

Some of the kidnappings go unreported because people fear retribution, Drickersen said.

Ransom demands are almost always made over the phone. The cross-border communication gives the FBI its jurisdiction. But the agents need authorization from Mexican authorities before they can carry out an operation across the border.

Mexican authorities have been helpful, their U.S. counterparts said.

“They're cooperating, but we would like them to do even more,” Drickersen said.

A week ago, Mexican authorities rescued two female real estate agents who were being held in a Tijuana neighborhood. The women were kidnapped Jan. 19 by three men after showing a property in southern Tijuana, the Baja California Attorney General's Office said in a statement.

The men called in a ransom demand of $350,000, the statement said. Family members negotiated a payment of $27,000 and dropped off the cash, but the women weren't released.

Baja California state agents tracked down the vehicle used to pick up the cash. The driver led authorities to the women, and three men were arrested.

Both women are Mexican citizens, although one is married to a U.S. resident. She and her husband live in Chula Vista. > News > Mexico > Tijuana & The Border -- Kidnappings of U.S. citizens on rise