Stolen in­dus­trial ex­plo­sive may be to blame in Juárez bomb­ing

Austin American-Statesman - - WORLD & NATION - By Ali­cia A. Cald­well

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.

Alex Bran­don

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