El Paso Times
El Paso, Texas -- The Barrio Azteca gang could be plotting to kill El Paso law enforcement officers in retaliation for a recent crackdown on gang members, an alert issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned.
"The Barrio Azteca gang may issue a 'green light' authorizing the attempted murder of LEOs (law enforcement officers) in the El Paso area," stated a copy of the alert obtained by the El Paso Times.
A "green light" is a murder sanctioned by the military-style leadership of the gang. The gang works with the Juárez drug cartel and is under scrutiny for its possible involvement in the unsolved murders in Juárez of three people tied to the U.S. Consulate.
The warning, or Officer Safety Alert, stated that the potential threat was "uncorroborated" but that officers and their families should take extra precautions.
"We understand it's uncorroborated information so we don't know how serious a threat it is," said Special Agent Andrea Simmons, spokeswoman for the FBI in El Paso.
The alert, issued Monday, tells officers to wear body armor while on duty, to vary routes to and from work and to tell their families to watch for any unusual activity. It also stated that suspicious people and vehicles near government buildings should be reported.
"It is always good to be reminded that law enforcement can be a target for any reason," Simmons said.
Last week, the Barrio Azteca was the focus of one of the largest law enforcement operations in El Paso, resulting in the arrests of 54 alleged gang members and associates. Names and charges of those arrested have not been released.
The sweep, named Operation Knock Down, is part of an investigation by the FBI and DEA into the murders of three people linked to the U.S. Consulate in Juárez on March 13. More than 200 officers from 21 agencies took part in the operation.
The Barrio Azteca was formed in the 1980s by El Pasoans in prison and is a brother organization to the Aztecas gang in Juárez. Eduardo "Tablas" Ravelo, the reputed boss of the Barrio Azteca in Juárez, is on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list.
Mexican authorities suspect the Aztecas in the killings of Lesley Enriquez Redelfs, who worked for the consulate, and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, a detention officer with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office.
The couple were killed by armed men who chased and fired at their vehicle after they had left a children's party in Juárez. They were expecting their second child. The couple's 7-month-old daughter was in the back seat of the car but was not hurt.
A third person, Jorge Alberto Ceniceros Salcido, whose wife, Hilda Antillon Jimenez worked at the consulate, was also slain at nearly the same time at another location after leaving the same party.
Aztecas are thought to be fighting on the side of La Linea, or the Juárez drug cartel, against the Sinaloa drug cartel in the current drug war. Nearly 4,800 people have been killed in the Juárez area since 2008.
Juárez police have regularly fallen in the drug war, and it's not unusual for cartels to openly list officers marked for death.
Forty-eight Juárez police officers were killed last year, police spokesman Jacinto Segura said.
Segura said four officers (one an accidental death) have died this year, including an off-duty patrol officer slain Tuesday afternoon. Juan Carlos Ramos Cirino, 28, was attacked by three or four gunmen with assault rifles who burst into his mother's home, fired 21 rounds and killed him in front of his mother, police said.
Juárez Mayor José Reyes Ferriz has also been threatened but unharmed. On March 10, a pig head was left with a note stating the mayor had "two weeks left to live." The deadline was Wednesday.
In the past, threats against law enforcement on the U.S. border have popped up occasionally.
In 2000, Mexican drug traffickers offered a $200,000 bounty for the deaths of U.S. federal agents along the border. The threat did not materialize. There were also past rumors of bounties on drug-sniffing dogs.
"We see these kinds of alerts periodically, but we can't go into them because of security reasons," said Doug Mosier, spokesman for the Border Patrol.
As for the latest threat, El Paso police spokesman Detective Mike Baranyay would say only that officers were aware of it.
"We take everything serious," said Ron Martin, president of the El Paso Municipal Police Officers' Association. "The safety of the officers is paramount. It's not the first time somebody has put a hit or a green light on an officer, and it probably won't be the last."
Martin said police already exercise caution when dealing with any gang member and are vigilant because of the situation in Mexico.
"Gunning down a detention officer and his pregnant wife 20 feet from the Juárez city hall in view of the border highway (in El Paso) -- that's unacceptable," Martin said. "Mexico has to fix their problem, and if it takes the U.S. stepping in, so be it.
"You can't just execute somebody in broad daylight in front of God and country and you can't expect somebody not to react," Martin said. "If they (gangsters) don't want to be bothered, they shouldn't be criminals."