Stolen industrial explosive may be to blame in Juárez bombing
JUÁREZ, Chihuahua — A drug gang that carried out the first successful car bombing against Mexican security forces probably used an industrial explosive that organized crime gangs in the past have stolen from private companies, a U.S. official said Monday.
The assailants apparently used Tovex, a water gel explosive commonly used as a replacement for dynamite in mining and other industrial activities, said the U.S. official, who is familiar with the investigation but spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the Mexican-led investigation.
The U.S. official had no other details on how the bomb was constructed, and Mexican officials declined to comment.
The car bomb killed three people — including a federal police officer — Thursday in the border city of Juárez, and introduced a new threat in Mexico’s drug war. Mexican authorities say the assailants lured police and paramedics to the scene through an elaborate ruse seemingly taken out of an al Qaeda playbook.
A street gang tied to the Juárez cartel dressed a bound, wounded man in a police uniform, then called in a false report of an officer shot at an intersection. They waited until the authorities were in place to detonate the bomb.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the car bomb “may represent a different tactic.”
“Unfortunately, these drug cartels, they have an enormous amount of resources at their disposal. They can buy any kind of capability they want. But we are determined, working with Mexico, to do everything in our power to reduce this violence,” Crowley said.
A graffiti message scrawled on a wall Monday threatened more attacks in the city across the border from El Paso. The message directed its threat at the FBI and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, demanding an investigation of Mexican law enforcement officials who “support the Sinaloa cartel.”
The Sinaloa cartel — one of the world’s most powerful drug-trafficking organizations — has been battling the Juárez cartel for control of the city for two years.
Messages scrawled on walls and banners and attached to the bodies of cartel victims frequently accuse Mexican federal forces of protecting the Sinaloa cartel, a charge President Felipe Calderón’s administration vehemently denies.
“This is a whole new level,” said Tony Payan, a political analyst and expert in Mexico’s effort to combat drug cartels. “When you compare it to terrorism as it is traditionally understood, there are some similarities. The modus operandi was definitely of a terrorist attack. It was designed to instill fear in the police and the general population.”
Payan said the government was too quick to dismiss the possibility that the motive behind the attack was political. The day after the bombing, Mexican Attorney General Arturo Chavez said there was no evidence of “narcoterrorism” in Mexico or any ideological motive behind the attack.
Monday’s message said there would be another car bomb unless corrupt federal officials are arrested within 15 days. There was no way to verify the authenticity of the message.
The FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are aiding in the investigation.
Also Monday, the government announced that it would send more federal troops to the northern state of Coahuila after the massacre of 18 people at a private party there. Gunmen stormed the party in the city of Torreón on Sunday and opened fire without a word.
Investigators had no suspects or information on a possible motive, but Coahuila is among several northern Mexican states that have seen a surge in drug-related violence as the Gulf cartel battles its former enforcers, the Zetas.
The Coahuila state attorney general’s office said Monday that the death toll rose to 18 overnight after one of the wounded died. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin said Monday that more helicopters are being sent to the border in addition to troops. With him are John Morton, left, of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Gen. Craig McKinley.