Saturday, May 9, 2009

Gunmen Kill Chief of Mexico’s Police


On 8 May, Mexico's top policeman, Edgar Millan, was shot dead outside his home in Mexico City.

It is the equivalent of killing the head of the Metropolitan Police in London, or the director of the FBI in the US.

Two other senior officers were then killed in the space of two days, the murders blamed on Mexico's powerful drug gangs.


Edgar Millan Gomez, the acting chief of Mexico's federal police, in January.

Mexico City — Gunmen assassinated the acting chief of Mexico’s federal police early on Thursday morning in the most brazen attack so far in the year-and-a-half-old struggle between the government and organized crime gangs.

The Mexican police have been under constant attack since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2007 and started an offensive against drug cartels that had corrupted the municipal police forces and local officials in several towns along the border with the United States and on both coasts.

Since then, Mr. Calderón has sent thousands of federal agents and troops into those areas to establish law and order, provoking retaliation from drug cartels that have killed about 200 officers, among them at least 30 federal agents.

The acting chief, Edgar Millán Gómez, was ambushed by several men wearing rubber gloves and carrying weapons as he entered his apartment building in the Guerrero neighborhood of Mexico City with two bodyguards at 2:30 a.m. He was hit eight times in the chest and once in a hand. He died a few hours later at Metropolitan Hospital.


Commander Millán was the highest ranking official to be killed since Mr. Calderón’s campaign against drug dealers began. Intelligence officials said it was highly likely that he was killed in retribution for the arrest on Jan. 21 of Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, one of the leaders of a cartel based in Sinaloa State.

“It was in response to his role in the arrest,” said one intelligence officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release classified information. “It’s the worst casualty we have suffered so far.”

Commander Millán, 41, had served for the last year as the federal police official in charge of the antidrug operations throughout the country. A month ago, he was promoted to become the acting chief of the entire force.

His death was the 10th assassination of a federal police official in the last two months. Last week, gunmen also shot and killed the head of the organized crime division in the public security ministry, Roberto Velasco Bravo.


One of Commander Millán’s bodyguards, though wounded, managed to wrestle an attacker to the ground and arrest him. The man, Alejandro Ramírez Báez, 34, carried a pistol with a silencer, the police said. Shells from an assault rifle were also found at the scene. The police said Mr. Ramírez had a criminal record, having been convicted twice for stealing cars. It remained unclear who, if anyone, had hired him as an assassin, they said.

Commander Millán started his career in Mexico’s intelligence service and switched in 2001 to the newly formed Federal Agency of Investigation, where he rose quickly to become the chief of the kidnapping division. He dismantled several notorious kidnapping rings and managed the successful release of Rubén Omar Romano, a professional soccer coach.


Retaliation?

Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who attended Mr Millan's funeral, has spoken about "taking the streets back" from the cartels.

An extra 3,000 or so army troops and federal police have been sent to the Pacific state of Sinaloa in another attempt by the government to stop the violence.

Police sources believe it was the Sinaloa cartel which organised Mr Millan's killing.

They may even have hired a serving federal police officer to carry out the attack. An officer suspected of being involved is among those who have been arrested.

But why shoot Edgar Millan in the first place? No one knows exactly.

He had been heading a force that had arrested dozens of members of the Sinaloa cartel. One of its leaders, Alfredo Beltran Leyva, was taken into custody in January.

That might have been motive enough for a cartel retaliation.
 
Sinaloa Cartel Responsible?
 
A federal official says the Sinaloa cartel ordered the killing of Mexico's acting federal police chief.

Federal police coordinator Gerardo Garay said Monday the cartel's Beltran Leyva brothers ordered the killing. He says they hired a criminal group allegedly led by a corrupt federal highway police officer to kill Edgar Millan Gomez.


Mexican President Felipe Calderon
 
Mexican President Felipe Calderon said on Friday the country was sick and tired of rampant drug violence after five high-ranking policemen were killed in less than a week.

"We have to come together to confront this evil, we Mexicans have to definitively and categorically say, 'That's enough!'," Calderon said. "We can't accept this situation, we have to take back our streets."

He spoke after attending the funeral of regional commissioner Edgar Millan, one of Mexico's top federal policemen, who was murdered on Thursday by hired killers waiting for him at his home.

Calderon has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and federal police around the country to bring powerful drug cartels under control, but the army has failed to reduce spiraling violence.

More than 2,500 people were killed in drug related violence in Mexico last year. Another 1,100 people have died so far this year as the drug gangs battle each other and security forces.


The Mexican media said Millan was targeted by professional killers hired by the powerful Sinaloa gang because of his leading role in the arrests of the cartel's gunmen.

"I know that organized criminals are reacting like this because they see that we hurting their operations and breaking down their structures," Calderon said on Friday.


Intelligence Report

The bodies of six young men were found Thursday in the Mexican state of Durango (north), after they were abducted during the night in a bar in the town of Gomez Palacios, said the state prosecutor's office.

"The six young people between 25 and 30 years were found dead later, on the outskirts of Gomez Palacios, located in northern Durango, said on Friday a spokesman for the attorney of Durango.

An armed commando of men with their faces covered and joined several vehicle on Thursday morning at a bar and kidnapped youth found dead with gunshot wounds in a deserted area on the outskirts of Gomez Palacios.

Durango is part of the "golden triangle", at which point it joins Chihuahua (north) and Sinaloa (northwest), where drug cartels operate.

Mexico’s long and violent drug cartel war has recently intensified. The past week witnessed the killings of no fewer than six senior police officials. One of those killed was Edgar Millan Gomez, acting head of the Mexican federal police and the highest-ranking federal cop in Mexico. Millan Gomez was shot to death May 8 just after entering his home in Mexico City.

Within the past few days, six suspects have been arrested in connection with his murder. One of the ringleaders is said to be a former federal highway police officer. The suspects appear to have ties to the Sinaloa cartel. In fact, Millan Gomez was responsible for a police operation in January that led to the arrest of Alfredo Beltran Leyva, the cartel’s second-in-command. Mexican police believe Beltran Leyva’s brother Arturo (who is also a significant player in the Sinaloa cartel structure) commissioned the hit.

During the same time period, violence from the cartel war has visited the family of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, the Sinaloa cartel leader who has the distinction of being Mexico’s most-wanted drug kingpin. On May 8, Guzman Loera’s son Edgar Guzman Beltran and two companions were killed by a large-scale ambush as they left a shopping mall in Culiacan, Sinaloa.

In addition to discussing the geopolitical implications of this escalation in the violence, we thought it would be instructive to look at the recent wave of violence through the lens of protective intelligence. Such an effort can allow us not only to see what lessons can be learned from the attacks, but also provide insight on how similar attacks can be avoided in the future, which is the real aim of protective intelligence.


"The King" arrested

Jesus "The King" Zambada was among 16 Sinaloa cartel members arrested on Monday after a gunbattle with police in which an apparent grenade explosion destroyed a car, Attorney General Eduardo Medina said. Zambada's son, his nephew, two federal police officers and one state police officer were also among those arrested.

Zambada was identified as the brother of Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, who allegedly heads the cartel along with one of Mexico's most wanted men, Joaquin Guzman.

Medina described Jesus Zambada as one of the top four leaders of the cartel. He was allegedly in charge of operations in central Mexico, including cocaine and methamphetamine trafficking through the capital city's international airport. He is suspected in the death of several people found decapitated around the airport in 2007, Medina said.

Prosecutors said Zambada was suspected of having a role in a failed bomb attack against a Mexico city police commander in February and in the 8 May assassination of acting Mexican federal police chief Edgar Millan.



A group of members of the Sinaloa cartel were arrested which included Jesús Zambada Reyes, nephew of El Mayo and, presumed son of “El Rey”, and three police officers with the federal polic, Agency of Federal Investigations and the Mexiquense ministrial police. They are suspected to be the mastermind in the execution of Millan Gomez.

The Beltran Leyve Connection
 
To strike back at narcotics traffickers suspected of ordering the assassination of Mexico's top drug cop, President Felipe Calderon dispatched 2,000 army troops and federal police to the gang's home base, the western state of Sinaloa.

The traffickers struck back themselves with a paramilitary-style ambush of a police station, and taunted the newly arrived troops with mocking signs on the streets.

Analysts say those moves last week show that the killing of Edgar Millan Gomez on May 8 has opened a dangerous new phase in the country's drug war.

Millan Gomez, the 41-year-old acting director of Mexico's federal police, knew he was a target, and he shuttled among three homes in a bid to outwit his nemesis: Arturo Beltran Leyva, the leader of one faction of the so-called Sinaloa cartel.

The police official lost that battle.

In the days since he was gunned down, officials have revealed that Millan Gomez's killers probably knew that he slept in more than one home. They even had the keys to his front door, a stunning illustration of the cartels' power to gather intelligence about government operations.


Officials and analysts argue that the assassination was actually a sign of weakness. Pressured by the government, they say, the Sinaloa cartel is in retreat and disarray, split into factions that have turned on each other. Several mid- and high-ranking members of the gang have been arrested, and army troops already deployed in the region have seized drug shipments, destroyed opium poppy fields and seized more than 100 airplanes believed to be used by traffickers.

Killing Mexico's No. 3 public-safety official was a reckless act committed by cornered criminals, the government says.

"We have damaged their financial and logistical operations," Calderon said Monday. "And this has apparently provoked these criminal acts of desperation in which they seek to recover the protected spaces they've lost."

Millan Gomez, who coordinated joint efforts of the army and federal police, had struck several blows against the Sinaloa cartel. The biggest was the seizure of 23 tons of cocaine in October at the Pacific port of Manzanillo.

But the investigation into Millan Gomez's killing has also revealed the power and reach of the cartel.

In Mexico City, Millan Gomez's bodyguards and several of his aides have been forced to take polygraph examinations. Investigators believe a top official close to Millan Gomez must have betrayed him to cartel hit men.

At least one federal police officer has been arrested in the killing: Jose Antonio Montes Garfias, a 14-year veteran assigned to the regional headquarters of the federal police in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state.

Details also have emerged on the extent to which Mexico's drug organizations rely on former army soldiers and serving policemen.

The Sinaloa cartel is one of the oldest in Mexico. Founded by a few close-knit families and once dominant in Mexico's drug trade, it has been challenged over the last decade by the so-called Gulf cartel, based in the northeastern border state of Tamaulipas. But the Sinaloa traffickers still control Pacific smuggling routes that U.S. officials say have become the most popular for shipment of Colombian cocaine to the United States.

Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, the fugitive leader of the gang, is fighting for control of the group with his former top henchman, Beltran Leyva, officials say. The animosity between the factions may have led to the killing of Guzman's son, Edgar, on May 8, the day Millan Gomez was slain.

Millan Gomez was directing an operation against Beltran Leyva just hours before he was killed, officials said. His police officers had cornered the drug baron on a highway outside Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City. But they found themselves outgunned by a well-coordinated team of bodyguards, led by several former members of the 43rd Infantry Battalion of the Mexican army.

Two men on each side were killed, authorities said. Nine of Beltran Leyva's bodyguards were arrested.

But Beltran Leyva escaped. That evening, his plan to rid himself of the tenacious Millan Gomez moved toward fruition, authorities said. According to federal police, the cartel leader contracted Millan Gomez's killing to a criminal gang in Mexico City.

Millan Gomez's schedule was a closely guarded secret, known only to a few associates, officials said. But as he headed home accompanied by two bodyguards in an armored sport utility vehicle, four cartel hit men were waiting behind his front door.

The bodyguards dropped off Millan Gomez, who entered his home alone. Seconds later, they heard gunshots.


Ramírez Baez at the crime scene during the execution of Edgar Millán Gómez.

Though wounded by at least eight shots, Millan Gomez was able to grab one of the attackers, officials said.

"Who sent you?" he demanded. "Who sent you to kill me?" He died at a hospital, the third high-ranking federal police official killed in Mexico City in a week.

His bodyguards were wounded in an exchange of gunfire with the fleeing assailants. One man, a petty criminal with two convictions for auto theft, was arrested. At least three escaped.

Several analysts said Mexico was entering a new phase of the drug war. The government offensive, they said, had caused cash shortages and splits in the cartels.

Newspaper columnist Jorge Fernandez Menendez compared the Mexican traffickers' predicament with that of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and his Medellin cartel during its decline in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"The weaker Escobar became, the more enemies he made . . . and the less money he had, the more he resorted to violence to take revenge on his enemies and strike fear in them," Fernandez Menendez wrote in the newspaper Excelsior.


On Tuesday, Calderon's "security cabinet," including the Interior and Defense secretaries and attorney general, made a point of traveling to Sinaloa's capital for a meeting. Then, the troops were dispatched.

"If necessary, we'll bring even more troops," Defense Secretary Guillermo Galvan said. "Organized crime is not, and can never be, stronger than Mexico."

Officials quickly moved to close 20 of the 22 currency exchange houses in Culiacan and audit their operations. Such businesses often are used by traffickers to launder profits.

The drug traffickers responded with the guerrilla-style attack against the police station.

On Wednesday, as many as 40 cartel operatives launched an attack on a police station in Guamuchil, a city 60 miles northwest of Culiacan. They came in 10 late-model pickups, and wore jackets bearing the logo of a federal police agency.

As the half a dozen police officers inside scrambled for cover, the attackers sprayed the building with automatic-weapons fire and set off at least two grenades. Two officers were hurt before the attackers fled, leaving behind several hundred spent ammunition casings.

The traffickers have also posted signs on Culiacan street corners that taunt the government efforts.

"Little soldiers of lead, generals of straw," read one sign, painted on a sheet.

"This is the territory of Arturo Beltran."

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