MEXICO CITY (AP) – A high-sided truck with a white SUV entered the path of Mexico City’s police chief just as Friday arrived on the capital’s most iconic boulevard, and attackers opened fire with sniper rifles and grenades from .50 caliber on his armored vehicle.
The cinematic ambush with at least a dozen shooters left head Omar García Harfuch injured with three bullet impacts and shrapnel. Two members of his security detail were killed, as was a woman who happened to pass by.
The attack’s powerful armament and brutality suggested the Jalisco New Generation cartel, and hours after the attack, García blamed them via Twitter from the hospital.
“This morning we were cowardly attacked by the CJNG,” García tweeted, using the Spanish-language acronym for Mexico’s most violent criminal group.
“Two colleagues and friends of mine died,” García wrote. “I have three gunshot wounds and several pieces of shrapnel. Our country must continue to stand up to cowardly organized crime. We keep working. ‘
His office later said he had surgery.
Referring to García’s tweet blaming the Jalisco cartel, Federal Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said at a news conference that “this is one of the hypotheses investigating the Mexico City Prosecutor’s Office.”
Durazo said that the Mexican intelligence service apparently had information that the cartel intended to carry out an attack, but that it did not provide additional details. He said that García had been shot in the shoulder, collarbone and knee.
Mexico City Attorney General Ernestina Godoy Ramos said on Twitter that 12 suspects have been arrested and her office is investigating the attack.
Jalisco is the same gang that US prosecutors said were trying to buy belt-fed M-60 machine guns in the United States and that once shot down a Mexican military helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade. In October, an anti-cartel ambushed and killed 14 police officers in Michoacán.
But such a high-profile attack in Mexico’s capital is a blow to a federal government struggling to respond to record levels of violence across the country.
The gang has built an almost national presence, from the white sandy beaches of Cancun to Mexico City and the country’s major ports, as well as major border cities traditionally controlled by other cartels.
Friday’s attack came two weeks after rumors roamed for a day that Jalisco’s leader Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, better known as ‘El Mencho’, had been captured or killed, although officials later denied that. Oseguera is the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s most wanted fugitive, with a $ 10 million prize on his head.
In March, the US authorities arrested hundreds of Jalisco agents in raids across the country. They said the gang controls between a third and two thirds of the US drug market.
“This type of attack is not normal, they have crossed the line. You should read it as an exceptional act, “said security analyst Alejandro Hope. “You will have two very serious attacks within two weeks. First the murder of the federal judge and now the attack on the city’s police chief. ‘
Earlier this month, a federal judge and his wife were murdered at home by gunmen in the western state of Colima. The judge had handled a number of organized crime cases.
If it’s the Jalisco gang, the government should attack them like it did with the hyper-powerful Zetas gang between 2010 and 2013, Hope said. They are a systematic threat to the government. There must be “an exceptional response, to dismantle the criminal group … as they did with the Zetas at the time.”
Hope said the Jalisco gang has been in the capital for a long time. In this case, they likely recruited local gunmen through their alliances, he said.
The attack, which lasted barely a minute, took place along a stretch of the large Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City, where foreign embassies and large houses are surrounded by walls. Grainy security cameras showed at least seven men standing upright in the truck’s bed and firing in a glow of light as more shooters fired from the ground.
Later, forensic technicians began marking hundreds of scale casings that lay on the street. Relatives of the bystander who perished hugged and wept.
While authorities rarely like to mention cartels, especially in Mexico City, the name of the Jalisco gang is increasingly common.
In May 2019, local news media reported that federal authorities had arrested the boss of Mexico City. In July, Jalisco was blamed for the murder of two Israeli men in a luxury shopping center in Mexico City, and eventually the Mexico City police followed one of the killers to Guadalajara, the capital of the state of Jalisco. Earlier this year, alleged Jalisco operators warned in a video about clearing criminal competition from two cities in Mexico City.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador offered his support and solidarity to Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum and the city’s police.
“It undoubtedly has to do with the work he does to ensure peace and tranquility,” said López Obrador.
Durazo, who was traveling with the President, condemned what he called a “cowardly” attack. “It is clear that the work of the (police) has strong criminal interests,” he tweeted.
Garcia, 37, is a former head of the Federal Police Investigation Department and from 2016 to 2019, he headed the Federal Attorney General’s department that leads investigations and arrests of members of organized crime.
Before being appointed Mexico City Police Chief, he spent several months working as the Mayor’s intelligence coordinator.
The analyst Hope said Friday’s attack could be the result of an earlier period in García’s career. “It may have something to do with a story years ago, it could be a kind of revenge for something he did,” he said.
AP photojournalist Rebecca Blackwell contributed to this report.
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