MEXICO CITY (AP) – Dozens of gunmen were believed to be linked to the hyper-violent Jalisco New Generation cartel that was deployed for a complex, multi-pointed ambush at dawn intended to kill the police chief of Mexico City at one of the most brutal attacks in Mexico since the equally brutal attacks Zetas walked a path of terror across the country nearly a decade ago.
The attackers used grenades and a 0.50 caliber sniper rifle to attack the chief’s armored vehicle early on Friday, killing two of his bodyguards and a woman passing by. Police chief Omar García Harfuch was shot in the shoulder, collarbone and knee, but was reported out of danger.
He called the attack “cowardly” and blamed the Jalisco Cartel, which has acquired an almost national presence, from the white sandy beaches of Cancun to Mexico City and the country’s major ports, as well as key border towns that are becoming traditional controlled by other cartels.
Police officers who came to the scene on the capital’s iconic Paseo de la Reforma boulevard in the upscale Lomas district gathered a dozen of the shooters, who were taken away for questioning, authorities said.
Later on Friday, the main police arrested an alleged head of the Jalisco New Generation assassins, suggesting he could be the mastermind behind the attack, a Mexico City police officer who was not authorized to be named.
The official said police arrested José Armando Briseño on the east side of the city. Nicknamed “Cow”, he is believed to be the head of the gang’s hit men in the town of Tonala, Jalisco.
The attack on the police chief was carefully planned and involved a total of 28 armed men who had been hired three weeks earlier, said Ulises Lara, spokesman for the Mexico City public prosecutor’s office. Three separate potential ambushes were set up on major arterial roads, including one – not used – in the heart of Mexico City, one block from the Independence Monument.
The shooters were divided into four different cells and they received ski masks and weapons on Thursday evening. At 4am they were taken to ambushes to wait for their target. They jumped off a truck and opened fire when Garcia’s convoy tried to pass.
Lara said that of the detained suspects, one is Colombian and the other eleven are Mexicans from the capital and five states – Jalisco, Guerrero, Nayarit, Chihuahua and Michoacan.
It was the second high-profile attack this month, after the death of a federal judge and his wife, that caused uncomfortable comparisons to Colombia’s drug wars in the 1980s and 1990s, in which drug traffickers routinely targeted judges and police for murder.
Mexico attacked and dismantled the Zetas cartel after killing migrants, unsuspecting civilians and officials between 2010 and 2013. But it remains to be seen whether the government will handle the Jalisco cartel in the same way as the Zetas.
“If they (Jalisco) are not made a priority target after this, I don’t know what is happening, then there is something wrong with the strategy,” said the government’s security analyst Alejandro Hope.
Mexico used elite military units and worked closely with the United States to pursue the Zetas cartel. But now, amid cuts and President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s policy of not directly confronting the cartels, it’s unclear whether the government has the will or the ability to fight Jalisco, especially in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
“This type of attack is not normal, they have crossed the line. You should read it as an exceptional act, ”Hope said. “You will have two very serious attacks within two weeks.”
Federal Security Secretary Alfonso Durazo said that the Mexican intelligence service apparently had information that Jalisco New Generation was planning an attack, but had not provided additional details.
It was unclear whether the attack was related to recent crackdowns on Jalisco-affiliated gangs in Mexico City or the previous work of the police chief in federal investigations.
García, 37, is a former head of the federal police investigative department and headed the federal prosecutor’s department in 2016-2019 overseeing 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.
Jalisco is the same gang that US prosecutors said tried 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, the cartel’s armed men ambushed and killed 14 police officers in Michoacan.
Friday’s attack came two weeks after rumors roamed for a day that Jalisco 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 on the United States. They said the gang controls between a third and two thirds of the US drug market.
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