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Friday, 25 May 2012

Seven police officers were hurt Thursday when a bomb detonated at a hotel in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo

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Seven police officers were hurt Thursday when a bomb detonated at a hotel in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo, authorities said. The blast occurred at 7:30 a.m., a source in the Tamaulipas state Attorney General's Office told Efe. The injured state police officers were taken to a hospital in the city, which lies just across the border from Laredo, Texas. Authorities are still trying to determine whether the bomb was inside the motel or in a car parked outside. The explosion at the motel followed arson attacks on three Nuevo Laredo nightclubs and coincided with gunbattles on city streets, media outlets said. Nuevo Laredo has been rocked in recent weeks by major clashes between gunslingers from the rival Sinaloa and Los Zetas drug cartels, which are vying to control smuggling routes into neighboring Texas. The Mexican army took charge of public safety in the city nearly a year ago amid concerns that the municipal police department had been penetrated by organized crime.

The Sinaloa and Los Zetas gangs increasingly are using public massacres to terrify civilians

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The two most important criminal organizations in Mexico are engaged in all-out war, and the most spectacular battles are being fought for the cameras as the combatants pursue a strategy of intimidation and propaganda by dumping ever greater numbers of headless bodies in public view — the victims most likely innocents. No longer limiting themselves to regional skirmishes, the older, established drug-smuggling Sinaloa cartel now is fighting the brash, young paramilitary Los Zetas crime organization across multiple front lines in a desperate fight, according to U.S. and Mexican law-enforcement officials and security analysts on both sides of the border. The two gangs and their surrogates continue to kill each other quietly, but they also are staging public massacres to terrify civilians, cow authorities and taunt outgoing President Felipe Calderón, who has made his U.S.-backed confrontation against the cartels a centerpiece of his administration. "What was once viewed as extreme is now normal. So these gangs must find new extremes. And the only real limit is their imagination, and you do not want to know what is the limit of psychopaths," said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst with the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, a nonpartisan think tank. In the past month alone, in what authorities describe as a gruesome version of text messaging, the two criminal groups and their allies deposited 14 headless bodies in front of city hall in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, and hanged nine people, including four women, from a bridge in the same city. They have left 18 dismembered bodies in vans near Lake Chapala, an area frequented by tourists and U.S. retirees near Guadalajara. They used a dump truck to unload 49 more corpses, missing not only heads but also feet and hands, outside Monterrey, Mexico's main industrial city. To guarantee the widest possible audience, they posted a video of themselves dumping the bodies, plus a banner: "Gulf cartel, Sinaloa cartel, marines and soldiers, nobody can do anything against us or they will lose. ... " It was signed with names of Zeta leaders. "We've had over recent weeks these despicable inhuman acts in different parts of the country that are part of an irrational struggle mainly between two of the existing criminal organizations and their criminal allies," Interior Minister Alejandro Poiré said. Many of the victims have not been identified, and in the case of the 49 decapitated corpses, their heads have not been recovered. It appears likely the victims might not have been members of the warring groups but street criminals, addicts, civilians or migrants passing through on their way to the United States. "The killings are done to draw a response from the media, from the government, to bring in the military," said Jorge Chabat of the Center for Investigation and Economic Studies. "So these victims, they are not members of the organizations. They are just random guys. All the evidence suggests this. "They have never been very careful about who they kill. They just kill." For the past few months, based on wiretaps, intelligence from informants and arrests, U.S. and Mexican law-enforcement agents say they have been watching the Zetas make incursions deep into the Sinaloa cartel's traditional territories — even in Sierra Madre towns such as Badiraguato and Choix, once believed to be impregnable strongholds for Sinaloa's leader, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán, Mexico's most wanted man. The motivation behind the massacres? "These acts show force. They tell the world, the government, their opponents, that 'I am alive! You have not defeated me. I still am here.' They show muscle," said Martin Barron, an expert on security at the National Institute of Criminal Science. "Now why have things gone so far? Such brutality? Why cut off the heads, hands and feet? Previously, these organizations settled matters with a bullet in the head. Not anymore. Now there is a psychopathology at work. Some of these people obviously enjoy this, and they are teaching their surrogates, teenagers, to enjoy it," Barron said. To bolster their defense of regions they control, and to destabilize their opponents, both groups have taken the fight to the other's territory. Part of this strategy is to "heat up the plaza" — a plaza being a city or town where a criminal group controls corrupt officials and police as well as smuggling routes, a network of safe houses, armories of stashed weapons, and teams dedicated to spying, collecting money and killing. By heating up a plaza, the warring sides hope to bring in a forceful response by authorities — sending in the army or marines, who round up local crime cells and put pressure on the dominant group. The assassins almost always leave "narcomantas," neatly printed manifestos full of expletives and obscure rants that claim authorship for killings. The manifestos sometimes are accurate; other times they are designed to confuse. In the case of the 49 mutilated bodies left last week outside Monterrey, the Zetas first asserted responsibility, then denied it in other banners hung across the state, then finally took credit, perhaps reluctantly, when Mexican military forces arrested Daniel Elizondo, alias "The Madman," a leader of the local Zetas cell. Elizondo told authorities he had been ordered by the Zeta leadership to dump the bodies in the center of Cadereyta, an industrial town on the outskirts of Monterrey, but that he became frightened and put them on the highway leading outside of town. There is no way to know whether Elizondo's confession was true or made under duress. Those arrested for massacres never are tried in open court, records are almost impossible to obtain, and most never are put before a judge but sent to jail and eventually released. Mexico's prosecution rate for homicides is low. U.S. law-enforcement and Mexican analysts say the outbreak of war is not designed to influence the July 1 presidential election directly. But front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which hopes to return to power after 12 years, has stressed he is more interested in lowering violence than in drug trafficking. This would put Peña Nieto squarely against the Zetas, who specialize more in carjacking, kidnapping, extortion and smuggling migrants than in smuggling cocaine and marijuana.

Mexican navy finds fake uniforms for use by drug gangs

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The security forces in Mexico have raided a workshop making fake Mexican military uniforms and body armour. Officials said the uniforms were used by Mexican drug cartels to set up road blocks and carry out kidnappings. They said the uniforms made it easier for criminals to approach their victims, who did not realise they were being targeted until it was too late. President Felipe Calderon deployed the military six years ago to help fight Mexico's drug gangs. Marines found the workshop in the northern town of Piedras Negras across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas, after receiving an anonymous tip-off. They seized hundreds of combat trousers and shirts, as well as body armour, some with the Marine logo. A Navy spokesman said the find showed "criminal groups wanted to discredit the Navy" by wearing their uniforms while committing crimes. Over the past months, the security forces have arrested a number of alleged cartel hitmen wearing counterfeit uniforms. More than 50,000 people are estimated to have been killed in drug-related violence since President Calderon came to power and declared war on the drug cartels in 2006.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

27 charged in Bloods gang investigation

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two dozen alleged members of the Bloods gang, many of them from the Charlotte area, have been charged in a racketeering enterprise that involved drugs, robberies and murder conspiracy. The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday that 27 members of the United Blood Nation, or simply the “Bloods,” were arrested May 18 following a two-year investigation involving the FBI, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police, Gastonia police, Gaston County police, the Gaston County Sheriff’s Office, Shelby police and the N.C. Department of Probation and Parole. An indictment says the suspects operated as a gang in North Carolina and elsewhere from 2007 to May 2012 as they engaged in drug trafficking and used the proceeds to help finance other criminal activities. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said the suspects committed armed robberies and home invasions, as well as acts of violence against rival gang members. Then they tried to conceal their crimes by threatening potential witnesses, prosecutors said. The suspects identified other gang members by their street names or area codes. Prosecutors said “704” was used to refer to gang factions in Mecklenburg and Gaston counties. The indictment also reveals that gang members met regularly and talked about past crimes and violence. They also discussed people they thought were cooperating with authorities and what actions might be taken against them. During those meetings, prosecutors said, the suspects planned and agreed to carry out more crimes, including murder, robbery and drug trafficking. The suspects face charges that include racketeering conspiracy, cocaine possession, conspiracy to commit murder and gun violations. “The FBI is committed to dismantling the gangs that threaten the safety and stability of our neighborhoods,” Chris Briese, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Charlotte Division, said in a statement. “This two-year investigation is an outstanding example of what federal, state, and local law enforcement can accomplish when we attack the gangs that operate in our communities.” Charged in the indictment are: • James Anderson (“Stank”), 28, currently incarcerated. • Alan Boyd Donta Barnett (“Big Al”), 37, of Gastonia. • Eric Eugene Brice (“Bug”), 40, of Gastonia. • Travis Lamar Brice (“Trap”), 28, currently incarcerated. • Quinton Lavar Brown (“QP” or “QB”), 20, currently incarcerated. • Rafas Gene Camp (“Tick”), 32, of Shelby. • Joston Jamal Clemmer (“Ace”), 21, of Gastonia. • Kemmey Nicole Cooke (“Gangsta Wu”), 29, of Chesapeake, Va. • Jaimel Kenzie Davison (“I-Shine”), 28, currently incarcerated. • Wesley Tyler Floyd (“West Coast”), 26, of Gastonia. • Davon Yakeen Futrell (“Smooth”), 24, of Gastonia. • Tristan Daquane Goode (“Buck”), 20, of Ranlo. • Nathaniel Graham (“Nasty”), 23, currently incarcerated. • Joseph Dranell Gray (“Killa”), 38, currently incarcerated. • Dominque O’Neill Jackson, a/k/a “DJ”, 23, of Gastonia. • Jimmy Lionell, Jones (“Buddhist” or “Buddha”), 37, currently incarcerated. • William Amir Knox (“Poo Nuk”), 28, currently incarcerated. • Kentrell Tyrone McIntyre (“Mustafa”), 32, currently incarcerated. • William Lewis Dontars Meeks (“Willie” or “Rock”), 34, of Gastonia. • Kevin Jerome Morris (“Kato”), 34, of Shelby. • Franklin Robbs (“Frankie Boo”), 41, currently incarcerated. • Maurice Terrell Robinson (“Hell Rell”), 22, of Lincolnton. • Andrew Eugene Stowe (“Coco”), 36, of Gastonia. • Marquise Deshawn Watson (“Rambo”), 20, of Gastonia. • Melinda Charmane Watson, 36, of Gastonia. • Daryl Wilkinson (“OG Powerful”), 47, currently incarcerated. • Samatha Williams (“Samantha Wilkinson” or “Lady Sam”), 43, of Bronx, N.Y. • Perry Gorontent Williams (“P-Flame” or “Flame”), 26, currently incarcerated.

If Chicago were a war zone, it would be a deadlier one for Americans than Afghanistan.

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In fact, according to the Department of Defense and FBI data, the number of Chicagoans murdered is two and a half times U.S. soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001. With NATO in the rear-view mirror, area law enforcement officials and politicians will turn their attention away from unruly protestors back to the city's rising murder rate - up 54 percent from last year, according to police data. Last week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a new strategy to combat gang activity in crime hot spots to halt the killing. The strategy, called a "wraparound plan," focuses on improving neighborhood services after police descend on an area to target and remove gangs. "Once we make arrests, and we eliminate a narcotics organization, we are committed to holding onto that turf, to that territory, to squeeze out the drug market and the violence," said Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy last week. Homicides in Chicago have spiked this year, though overall crime is down. Chicago has had 169 murders in 2012, compared to 110 at the same date last year. Overall, the city's crime rate is down 11 percent from last year. According to FBI and Department of Defense data, 5,056 people have been murdered in Chicago since 2001, compared with 1,976 total U.S. deaths in Afghanistan since 2001. Chicago's murder rate even outpaces total NATO coalition fatalities in Afghanistan since 2001 by a difference of more than 2,500 killed. The proposed wraparound plan is part of McCarthy's broader strategy to use data to concentrate police resources in troubled parts of the city, a strategy that reduced overall crime rates in New York by 80 percent in the 1990s. One of the programs developed in New York in the 1990s was a data-mapping system used to identify crime hot-spots. McCarthy brought the system, called CompStat, to Chicago last year; it helps police identify neighborhoods in which crime is likely to occur by tracking crime report trends. "Smart policing is about using resources and information to prevent violence," said Andrew Papachristos, a Harvard sociologist who studies street gangs, violent crime and gun violence. "It's not about going out and arresting people, it's about cooling people down." According to the Chicago Crime Lab, a research program at the University of Chicago, New York's turnaround in the 1990s was accomplished without mass incarcerations. Incarceration rates actually decreased by 28 percent in New York, while the national incarceration rate increased by 65 percent during the same period. Controversial strategies used in New York, such as the aggressive "stop and frisk" program, have not been adopted in Chicago. Explanations for the surge in Chicago murders range from the unseasonably warm winter to a police personnel shortage due to budget cuts. According to City Hall, the police department is short nearly 2,300 officers. Papachristos, however, argues that despite Chicago's need for more cops, a good policing strategy can still reduce crime. "Smart policing is better than more policing," he said. "It's not about how many people you have on the street, but having the right people on the street - one good cop is better than three average cops."

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Drug War in Nuevo Laredo Poses Possible Problems for US Law Enforcement

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The April 2012 murder and dismemberment of 14 people whose bodies were methodically placed in front of a lengthy and detailed narco-banner apparently didn’t make enough of an impact to satisfy Sinaloa Federation Cartel leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera. One week later, Mexican authorities found nine more corpses hanging from a bridge. The heads of fourteen additional bodies were discovered near Nuevo Laredo’s city hall.   The brutality reportedly was El Chapo’s work – he was sending a message to rival transnational criminal organization (TCO), The Los Zetas, that he would exact punishment on them for invoking negative media and law enforcement attention to this city just south of Laredo, Texas.   A portion of the banner read: “This is how I am going to finish off all the fools you send to heat up the plaza.” It was followed with the warning , “We'll see you around, you bunch of parasites.”   The border crossing from the Tamaulipas state city of Nuevo Laredo into Laredo, Texas is one of the busiest along the southwest border, particularly for commercial vehicles. The port of entry (POE) consists of five bridges over which more than 13,000 cars, 32,000 passengers, 4,000 commercial vehicles and 9,000 pedestrians cross on average cross each day. In fiscal year 2011, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the Laredo POE seized almost 17 tons of narcotics, $4.7 million in currency and made 1,746 federal arrests.   Thanks to the endless possibilities for smuggling drugs in so many cars and trucks, the Nuevo Laredo-Laredo corridor is one of the most lucrative for TCOs -- and thus one Mexico’s TCOs frequently fight for control of.   The first major battle over Nuevo Laredo started around 2003. At that time, the fighting was between El Chapo’s Federation Cartel and the Gulf Cartel (or, CDG for Cartel del Golfo). However, the Los Zetas Cartel also were part of the mix at the time because they were working as CDG enforcers. The head of the CDG at the time, Osiel Cárdenas Guillen, was arrested in 2003, and it’s possible that Los Zetas felt it now had a bit more freedom to engage in increasingly brutal behavior due to his absence.   The ensuing battle between these cartels introduced beheadings and dismemberments -- a style of violence that is commonplace today. Many experts though believe the warring between these ruthless TCOs at the time marked the start of Mexico’s modern drug war, and not the inauguration of President Felipe Calderón in December 2006 and his widely touted “war on drugs.”   But while drug-related deaths spiked in Nuevo Laredo at that time, they didn’t reach the sorts of astronomical numbers that occurred years later in cities like Ciudad Juárez, and this is probably why this shift is often overlooked.   While border violence spillover today is hotly debated, there is little doubt that the conflict between the Federation and CDG in Nuevo Laredo between 2003-2006 had a negative impact on its American sister city to the north. During this time, the murder rate skyrocketed in Laredo, Texas. Murders increasing from seven in 2002, to 29 in 2003.   The surge in killings was largely attributed to members of Los Zetas crossing the border and carrying out assassinations in the city. A major drug dealer in Dallas had partnered with Miguel “Z-40” Treviño Morales -- now second in charge of Los Zetas -- to move cocaine through the corridor into Texas, and the TCO needed to establish control over the “plaza.”   Morales set up drug stash houses throughout Laredo and dispatched at least four hit squads to eliminate dozens of people. Media and law enforcement reports indicate the Los Zetas’s hit list at the time had the names of at least 40 people in the United States, many of them in the Laredo area.   The situation in Laredo has greatly improved since then. After the hostilities between the TCOs stabilized, the murder rate dropped from 22 in 2006, to ten in 2007. Last year there were 11, and in 2010, there were nine. So far this year, there have only been seven homicides in this city of 236,000 people. In addition, between 2009-2011, the rates for robbery, theft and auto theft were all down -- the latter by 67 percent.   Laredo Police Department Public Information Officer, Investigator Joe Baeza, believes the security situation in Laredo is calm and relatively stable, especially compared to their sister city across the border.   “It’s not what people believe, when it comes to the situation in border cities,” Baeza said. “Law enforcement agencies here are very in tune with what’s happening in Mexico, and they’re doing a good job of mitigating any crossover violence.”   Asked about his city’s past role in the drug war, Baeza acknowledged there were problems. “We learned a lot from those years [2003-2006],” he said. “We saw not so much cartel-on-cartel violence, but a lot of directed hits.”   Thanks to that unfortunate, but important experience, Baeza said he believes his department and other agencies in the region are prepared to deal with any potential spillover from this current battle over one of the border’s most lucrative smuggling corridors.   Consequently, the outlook for The Los Zetas in Laredo today looks very different than it did nine years ago. It’s less likely they’ll go on a killing spree there simply because they’re expected, and law enforcement will be waiting for them. Still, it’s important to note that their members, as well as members of the CDG, continued to engage in violent behavior this past year in south Texas.   The main problem is that it’s usually the younger, less experienced recruits and co-opted US-based gang members employed by the cartels who are the ones who are trigger-happy and get themselves into trouble. Hopefully the Zetas and the CDG will remember that violence on the US side -- especially in a lucrative smuggling “plaza” like Laredo -- is bad for business and take measures to rein in their hot-headed foot soldiers. That way, US law enforcement in Laredo can focus on stopping narcotics rather than bullets.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Daniel Jesus Elizondo, known as El Loco, or The Madman, was arrested by troops.

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The Mexican army says it has arrested a man suspected of ordering the brutal killing of 49 people a week ago. The bodies were found dumped by a roadside near the city of Monterrey in northern Nuevo Leon state. An army spokesman said Daniel Jesus Elizondo, known as El Loco, or The Madman, was arrested by troops. The authorities say he is the local leader of the Zetas drug cartel, which, they say, left threatening messages with the bodies. In a statement, Mexico's defence secretary said Mr Elizondo was detained on 18 May in Cadereyta municipality, where the 49 bodies had been found six days earlier. However, information about the arrest was only made public on 20 May. Turf war Security officials said the 43 men and six women had been decapitated and had their hands cut off, making identification difficult. Cadereyta is on the road from Monterrey to Reynosa on the US border. Mexican authorities blamed the killings on a conflict between rival drugs gangs - a note left with the bodies said they had been killed by the Zetas cartel. It is the latest in a series of recent massacres in northern Mexico. The Zetas drug cartel has been accused of carrying out the Cadereyta massacre The Zetas have been fighting the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels for control of smuggling routes into the US. Security officials said the bodies, some of which were in plastic bags, appeared to have been killed at another location up to two days ago and dumped from a truck. Nuevo Leon's prosecutor, Adrian de la Garza, said the fact that hands and heads had been cut off made it difficult to identify the victims, but he said it was possible they were Central American migrants. Around 50,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon deployed the army to combat the cartels. The three main candidates to succeed Mr Calderon in July's presidential election have all said they would work to end the violence, but have not offered any concrete plans.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Three suspected employees of Mexico’s Los Zetas drug cartel were arrested in the eastern province of Zacapa after a gunfight with security forces

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Blog del Narco: Mexican Los Zetas Cartel Members Arrested in Guatemala

Photo: Guatemala Police

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Three suspected employees of Mexico’s Los Zetas drug cartel were arrested in the eastern province of Zacapa after a gunfight with security forces, the Guatemalan interior minister said Thursday.

The clash Wednesday in the town of Gualan resulted in no casualties, Mauricio Lopez told reporters in the capital.

He identified the suspects as Vicente Enrique Estrada, 21, Salvador Vargas, 31, and Luis Orlando Vargas, 35, and said all three are Guatemalan citizens.

Authorities have reason to believe Orlando Vargas runs the Zetas’ extortion and kidnapping rackets in eastern Guatemala, the interior minister said.

Police seized an AK-47 assault rifle, a 9 mm pistol and a bulletproof vest from the suspects.

Los Zetas, founded by deserters from an elite Mexican military unit and regarded as the most brutal of the country’s drug cartels, has had a presence in Guatemala for at least four years.

Officials do not have detailed figures on the number of killings carried out by Los Zetas in Guatemala, but they say the cartel has been behind at least a dozen massacres that have claimed the lives of about 100 people since 2008.

The most dramatic incident was the slaughter of 27 peasants in the border province of Peten.

Torture probe officer hails jail sentence

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THE detective who led the hunt for a gangland enforcer who tortured his victim during a clash over £50,000 of drug money has welcomed the six- year sentence he was given. Dean Buchanan, 33, forced Mark Morris into a van in Bathgate, West Lothian before inflicting serious injuries on him in August 2010. Morris, 39, told how he feared for his life during an attack by “ten or 15 men”. Detective Chief Inspector Phil Gachagan, who led the inquiry, said: “This was a particularly disturbing incident that left the victim with potentially life-threatening injuries. “Officers not only investigated the circumstances surrounding the attack, but carried out robust enquiries into Dean Buchanan’s involvement in organised crime. “His arrest and subsequent sentence should serve as a reminder to others involved in serious and organised crime that we will continue to gather evidence against you to bring you to justice and remove you from our communities.”

Murder of Honduran reporter blamed on drug gangs

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A prominent Honduran radio journalist was killed by drug gangs in retaliation for a government crackdown on cartels, the country's security minister said on Wednesday. Alfredo Villatoro, a well-known media personality, was found shot in the head on Tuesday a week after being kidnapped, the latest attack on the media in the violent Central American nation. The attack on Villatoro comes as police have stepped up arrests of traffickers and prosecutors have pushed for extraditions "(Drug gangs) are trying to frighten Honduran society," said Security Minister Pompeyo Bonilla in a statement to a local television station. Honduras has the world's highest murder rate - more than 80 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants last year - as the isthmus nation is increasingly used as a transit route for cocaine moving from South America to the United States. Villatoro was a director of HRN radio, one of the oldest broadcast stations in the country. He is the second reporter killed this month after journalist and gay-rights activist Erick Martinez was murdered last week. Four other broadcast journalists were murdered last year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Last month, gunmen fired at the home and car of two television reporters, though no one was killed. "We believe this is a message from organized crime. The government must take responsibility and stop this killing spree," Carlos Ortiz, president of the Honduran Press Association said. Mexican drug cartels have become more active in Central America in recent years and are blamed for much of the violence. Lawmakers last year approved legislation that allows the extradition of suspected criminals wanted abroad, particularly in the United States.

victims dissolved in acid San Diego jury convicts 2 of murders linked to Mexican drug gang

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jury convicted two men Wednesday of first-degree murder in the killings of two men whose bodies were dissolved in acid for a Mexican drug gang. Prosecutors said the gruesome case is one of the worst examples of Mexico’s horrific drug violence spilling over the border into the United States. 0 Comments Weigh InCorrections? Personal Post Jose Olivera Beritan and David Valencia could face maximum terms of life in prison without parole when they are sentenced July 19. Prosecutors said they were part of a group of alleged assassins acting on behalf of a Mexican trafficker who moved to the San Diego area and directed a cell that had broken away from the Tijuana-based Arellano-Felix cartel. The men were the first to go on trial among 17 people indicted in a case involving nine killings in San Diego. Nine of the 17 remain in custody, while the others were fugitives. The two strangled corpses were placed in 55-gallon barrels of acid heated by propane tanks on a ranch in San Diego County. More than two years after the killings, a witness led investigators to the ranch, where human remains were recovered. Olivera was also convicted of a third count of first-degree murder of man whose body was stuffed into the trunk of a stolen car and abandoned. Valencia was not in the gang at the time of that killing, prosecutors said. Jurors found the men guilty of kidnapping but not guilty of torture. A victim who survived was Eduardo Gonzalez Tostado. Prosecutors said he was chained and blindfolded for eight days until he was rescued in an FBI raid on a home in Chula Vista in June 2007. Authorities found three boxes of muriatic acid in the house. Defense attorneys for Valencia and Olivera argued during the trial that two of the prosecution’s key witnesses had been given deals for their testimonies and were not credible. The defense could not be reached for comment after the verdicts were read Wednesday. Deputy District Attorney James Fontane applauded the jury and said the verdicts send a strong message that San Diego County will not tolerate the “brutality that we’re seeing just south of the border.” “We will not sit by and let drug gangs conduct their business on our streets,” he said. He called it the worst case of drug violence that has been seen along the southwestern border of the United States. Despite the staggering drug violence that has sent murder rates soaring in Mexican border cities like Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana in recent years, U.S. cities directly across from them remain among the safest in the nation. Prosecutors said the men acted on behalf of a cell called Los Palillos, or The Toothpicks. The cell broke away from the Arellano Felix cartel around 2002 when its leader was killed in an internal feud. The Arellano Felix cartel was considered Mexico’s most vicious and powerful but has been largely crippled over the past decade by arrests and the killings of its top people. During the three-month trial, prosecutors called 80 witnesses and presented 700 items of evidence. The leader’s younger brother, Jorge Rojas, moved to the San Diego area and allegedly directed the cell in trafficking drugs and kidnapping and in killing perceived rivals until his arrest in 2007. Rojas, 32, was convicted of kidnapping in 2008 and sentenced to life in prison. He will be tried later this year on additional charges that may make him eligible for the death penalty, if convicted.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Shootings not my fault, says ex-bikie Wissam Amer

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THE man believed by police to be the central figure in a bikie feud has declared he is not at fault for Sydney's spate of drive-by shootings and says they are the "act of a coward". Wissam Amer, 28, broke his silence to The Sunday Telegraph to say he was not at the heart of the current shootings between the Hells Angels and Nomads outlaw motorcycle gangs. Last week The Sunday Telegraph revealed police believe Amer was the source of the conflict after he defected from the Hells Angels to the rival Nomads. Speaking through his lawyer Maggie Sten, the former bikie said unequivocally that he was no longer part of any gang and disputed police claims he's responsible for the feud. "The conflict between the Hells Angels and the Nomads is dead and buried - it has been for a while," Mr Amer said through his lawyer. "It has got nothing to do with me." Mr Amer was previously a member of the Bandidos, but left the group during a large scale "patch-over" of its members to the Hells Angels more than a year ago. Police believe he then tried to leave the Hells Angels to join the Nomads and burned bridges along the way - however he disputes this. Ms Sten said Mr Amer now wants to clear the record and confirm he is not part of any gang and is attempting to get on with a "normal life". What is not in dispute, however, is that Mr Amer was the target of two drive-by shootings over the past seven months. One was a drive-by at a Merrylands Oporto, two days after he was released on bail; the other happened three days later at his previous address at Canley Vale. Police believe both attacks were committed by Hells Angels, however Mr Amer said he could not prove this and neither could police. Mr Amer is unsure who the perpetrators were. "It could have been anybody - it's a dirty game, it could have been someone that I'd had a run-in with years ago," Ms Sten said on Mr Amer's behalf. "I live my life with no fear - I live now as a normal person." What Mr Amer was sure about was that drive-by shootings on himself or anyone else was a despicable act. "It's as weak as scratching somebody's car - anybody who drives a car and attacks you at 1am is a coward," he said through Ms Sten. "Especially when you know the people you're looking for are not there," referring to cases where the alleged targets were in jail. He could not explain the forces behind the current wave of shootings, but agreed with a police theory - revealed by The Sunday Telegraph - that a third party is trying to reignite animosities between the groups. Authorities brokered a peace agreement between the two gangs in January, but that faltered on April 16 when shots were fired at a home and car in Pemulwuy. "We believe it's other people trying to stir the pot," Ms Sten said for Mr Amer. "This is the perfect time for people to attack because they know the Hells Angels and Nomads were in a previous conflict which no longer exists." Police Strike Force Kinnarra has locked up 13 people in relation to the nine shootings that happened last month. Detective Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis said the conflict was firmly between the two gangs.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Eighteen people beheaded in Mexico, drug gang suspected

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Police found the decapitated and dismembered bodies of 18 people near Mexico's second-largest city, Guadalajara, on Wednesday, in what appeared to be the latest atrocity by the country's most brutal drug cartel. Thought to have been carried out by the Zetas gang, it was one of the biggest mass beheadings in the recent history of Mexico, where decapitations have become alarmingly common. The bodies and heads were stuffed into two vehicles abandoned on the side of a highway in the small town of Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos, said Tomas Coronado, chief prosecutor for the state of Jalisco. Some of the bodies had been refrigerated before they were dumped, Coronado said. A policeman at the scene in Ixtlahuacan said some victims had been so badly mutilated that officers could not determine whether they were male or female. The officer said a note by the bodies was signed by the Zetas cartel, a criminal militia led by former Mexican soldiers and blamed for some of the worst atrocities in Mexico's drug war. Guadalajara, known for its high-tech industry, mariachi bands and tequila, has been a strategic base for drug traffickers since the 1980s. Violence has flared in the once-tranquil city as the Zetas moved in to challenge the smuggling turf of other gangs in western Mexico. Soldiers arrested a high-ranking member of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel in the city in March, causing his supporters to block streets with 25 burning cars and trucks. Ixtlahuacan de los Membrillos lies 18 miles south of the center of Guadalajara on the road to Lake Chapala, a site popular with foreign tourists and American retirees. Attacks between the Zetas and their rivals have flared up across Mexico since the beginning of the year. On Friday, nine corpses were hanged from a bridge in the border city of Nuevo Laredo just hours before 14 bodies were dismembered and shoved into garbage bags and ice boxes. Five days of intense battles in western Sinaloa state last week also left 34 dead, adding to the body count in Mexico's drug war, which has killed more than 50,000 people in the past five years.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Recent Gunfights in Mexico may Signal a Shift in Turf Wars

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The recent deaths of at least a dozen people in clashes in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, as rival groups linked to the Zetas move into "Chapo Guzman's" home territory, may be evidence that the concept of the "plaza" dominated by a single group is losing its force. According to the Sinaloa newspaper Riodoce, the fighting started when an army patrol was ambushed. After receiving reports of a gunfight in a rural community in the municipality of Choix, in the remote Chihuahua-Sinaloa border region, an army patrol, supported by local police, went to investigate and was attacked. They called for backup, and a helicopter which arrived on the scene also came under fire. The initial outburst of violence was followed by further fighting in an adjacent community, resulting in the deaths of several more alleged criminals. Initially, Excelsior and other media outlets, based on local officials' reports, put the figure at 30 dead, which would have made the incident one of the most violent firefights in recent years. However, authorities later said that only seven died, before correcting the figure to 13. One Air Force sergeant and one municipal police officer were among those killed in Choix, with the remainder of the dead coming from the armed group that initiated the attack. Firefights that leave dozens dead are relatively uncommon in Mexico, but not unprecedented. Last May, 30 people were killed in a running battle between criminal gangs along a highway in the Pacific state of Nayarit. In July 2010, a group of human traffickers battled against hitmen just south of the US border in Sonora, leaving 22 victims. In May 2007, gunfights between state and federal authorities in Cananea, Sonora, left 22 dead, the majority of them suspected criminals. Choix sits within the so-called Golden Triangle, the remote portion of Mexico's Sierra Madre Occidental where the states of Durango, Sinaloa, and Chihuahua come together. The region is the traditional home of Mexico's marijuana and opium production, dating back to the 19th century, and Sinaloa is the home state of many of the nation's most notorious traffickers. While its remoteness gives the groups operating there a measure of protection against the federal forces, it remains relatively too close to border crossings in Chihuahua and Sonora, which adds to its value for criminal organizations. Initial reports said that the Choix attackers belonged to a cell linked to the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes' clan, the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), and the Zetas. Officials say that the mountainous region around Choix is controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the primary enemy of the three groups named above. However, the cell identified by authorities has reportedly been operating in the region for several weeks, and has engaged in a series of skirmishes with Sinaloa Cartel forces. The fighting is a manifestation of the ongoing turbulence in Sinaloa, which is ostensibly the home base of Guzman, widely considered the most powerful trafficker in Mexico. Typically, airtight control by a single capo brings a measure of peace to a given region, but Sinaloa remains one of the bloodiest states in Mexico. Indeed, in 2010, only Chihuahua had a higher murder rate or higher total number of murders than Sinaloa. Last, just four states witnessed more killings, and Chihuahua was again the only state with a higher murder rate than Sinaloa's. Much of this violence stems from Guzman's inability to definitively stamp out his rivals in the BLO, which was part of his group until 2008. Guzman is widely perceived as the winner of the years-long battle with the BLO, which has fractured into several different groups, but gunmen loyal to the Beltran Levyas, who are also from Sinaloa, have continued to operate in the Pacific state. As reports demonstrate, they have paired up with Guzman's principal enemies, increasing their significance. This is not the first time this coalition of Sinaloa enemies has managed to inflict damage on Guzman's forces. Written messages, known as "narcomantas," taunting Guzman have repeatedly appeared in recent months in the Sinaloa city of Guasave, crowing over the murders of Guzman subordinates and claiming that the drug lord is colluding with the state government. Interestingly, the Choix gunmen were said to be from Guasave. Reports emerged late last year that the Zetas, supported by the BLO and Carrillo Fuentes, had also made their way into Culiacan, Sinaloa's capital. These incidents suggest the continued vulnerability of Guzman's forces, even in his own backyard. That doesn't mean, however, that Guzman is passively losing ground; like his enemies, he has been busy trying to expand. The violence in Choix comes just weeks after the appearance of a series of narcomantas in Nuevo Laredo, the northeastern border town that serves as one of the Zetas' most important strongholds, heralding Guzman's arrival into the area. One of the messages, which bore Guzman's name and appeared alongside 14 dead bodies, accused Zeta boss Miguel Angel Treviño of using Hector Beltran Leyva's forces to target Guzman's people in Sinaloa. Taken together, these incidents suggest that the concept of the "plaza" -- the city or region controlled by a single drug trafficking organization, whose dominion is respected by its rivals -- has grown more vulnerable. If they continue, such forays into the enemy's turf are bound to provoke escalating acts of bloodshed.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

TWENTY-EIGHT people died yesterday in one of the bloodiest days in Mexico’s drug wars.

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Two women and three men, all in their early 20s, were killed in a shoot-out in Mexico City. In another incident, five men and four women were blindfolded and strung from Nuevo Laredo bridge, near the Texan border. And in a third, police found the cut-up bodies of 14 people in garbage bags and ice boxes dumped near Nuevo Laredo’s police station. Blood-soaked heads were in some boxes. Bloody ... scene of crime A total of 50,000 have died since President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown on traffickers in 2006. Clashes have spiralled since special forces sent to quell the carnage formed their own gang, the Zetas. At least one of yesterday’s attacks was carried out by them against the rival Gulf gang. Both are also battling with the Sinaloa cartel — named after a north-west state where violence surged last week. Sinaloa is the home turf of feared drug trafficker Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, Mexico’s most wanted man. FOURTEEN people died in a blaze at a drug rehabilitation centre near Lima, Peru, yesterday after an inmate set fire to a mattress.

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