By LAURA B. MARTINEZ and EMMA PEREZ -TREVINO
The Brownsville Herald
Brownsville police are releasing little details of an improvised explosive device found along U.S. Expressway 77/83 Sunday afternoon.
The “modified pineapple grenade” was discovered by a concerned citizen on the southbound lane of the expressway, who contacted authorities, police spokesman Eddie Garcia said.
Garcia said the homemade device was poorly constructed and had no detonator. However, if it had such a device and had exploded, it would have caused minimal damage to the expressway.
“There wouldn’t have been no serious damage because of its poor construction,” Garcia said. “At no time was there any danger to the infrastructure, the overpass nor the public really in any real danger.”
Police are in the process of trying to determine how the IED ended up on the roadway. On Monday, they continued to interview the person who discovered the device.
The FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are assisting in the case, which is protocol when such devices are found, authorities reported.
Authorities shut down the expressway’s southbound lane from FM 1732 to Alton Gloor Boulevard for about three hours Sunday, while the police department’s bomb squad checked out the device, Garcia said.
At about 6:45 p.m. the bomb squad "rendered the device safe," Garcia said. The southbound lane of the expressway reopened at 8 p.m.
Garcia said police have little information on the IED other than it being found on the highway. It is unknown whether it might have fallen out of a vehicle driving on the roadway or if was thrown out of vehicle.
Authorities could not say if the IED is something that is being used by the drug cartels.
Reports have circulated over the past years about IEDs being found among the weapons accumulated by the drug cartels.
In Mexico, the cartels have employed IEDs in the past, according to the Stratfor firm that provides strategic intelligence on global business, economic, security and geopolitical affairs.
“The use of IEDs in Mexico is nothing new,” Stratfor said in its April 13 report titled “The Perceived Car Bomb Threat in Mexico.”
Stratfor noted that explosives are plentiful in Mexico due to their widespread use in the country’s mining and petroleum sectors, and, because of Mexico’s strict gun laws, it is easier and cheaper to legally buy explosives than firearms.
According to Stratfor, explosives have played a minor role in the escalation of cartel violence in Mexico. “Mexican officials have frequently encountered explosives, including small amounts of military-grade explosives and far larger quantities of commercial explosives, when they have uncovered arms caches belonging to the cartels,” Stratfor said.
Stratfor also referred to a military operation on April 1.
The Mexican military reported that a group of individuals were encountered in Matamoros, Tamps., that absconded when they saw the military’s presence.
The military seized 88 weapons, more than 50 grenades, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, 412 chubs (plastic sleeves) of hydrogel commercial explosives, 36 electric detonators and 12 meters of detonation cord.
Noting that chubs of gel explosives can range from less than half a kilogram to a couple of kilograms in weight, Stratfor said that “this means there were at least a hundred kilograms of explosives in the cache, enough to make a sizable VBIED (vehicle-borne improvised explosive device).”
“Given that the cache was located in Matamoros and appears to have been there for some time, it is likely that it belonged to the Gulf Cartel. This, like other seizures of explosives, indicates that the reason the Gulf Cartel has used small explosive devices in its past attacks is not due to lack of explosives or expertise, but lack of will,” Stratfor assessed.
The Herald also found that the military on June 2, 2010, and also in Matamoros located a large cache of arms including 104 weapons, 202 grenades of different types including gas grenades, fragmentation grenades and 40mm grenades. The military also seized 264 electric detonators in this operation.
In 2006, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers, along with ATF agents and Laredo police seized a cache of weapons including two complete IEDs and materials for making 32 more, military grenades and 26 grenade triggers, a House Committee on Homeland Security report stated.
“We don’t know how this artifact got there,” Garcia said. “We can’t speculate anything at this time. We are just dealing with the facts and the facts are that this item was found there on the highway.”
It is also unknown if there had been any chases on expressway where a driver may have been trying to out run another vehicle and tossed out the IED as a deterrent.
The device is being held as evidence.
Garcia said if residents find any suspicious devices, they should avoid handling them and contact the proper authorities.