Mexico City’s Police Chief Recovering From Bullet Wounds in Cartel Ambush
(Bloomberg) -- Mexico City’s security chief, who was caught in a deadly ambush Friday, is “doing well” after his surgery, according to Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum.
Omar Garcia Harfuch, head of public security, was shot three times when at least two dozen hit-men with high-caliber weapons opened fire in a leafy, upscale neighborhood of Mexico’s capital on Friday morning. Two people in Garcia Harfuch’s security detail died, along with a woman who was driving to work, the mayor said.
Garcia Harfuch was rushed into surgery after being shot in the shoulder, collarbone and knee. He was recovering Saturday, with “more energy than ever,” Sheinbaum said in a briefing Saturday on her Twitter account. She later posted a photo of him smiling from his hospital bed.
A powerful drug cartel has been accused of trying to assassinate the city’s top cop, marking a new escalation in the years-long war between the government and organized crime.
Garcia Harfuch also said in a tweet he’s recovering well and urged the city to continue working to maintain security and peace.
The bloody confrontation turned the normally quiet street into a war zone, with shattered glass littering the ground and an SUV riddled with bullet holes. As police tried to make sense of exactly what happened, details emerged adding to the mystery, including that the attack may have been foretold in intercepted phone calls and a recent newspaper column. Federal Public Security Minister Alfonso Durazo confirmed that threats had been made and said in a press conference that initial information points to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
“The Jalisco cartel has become public enemy No. 1,” said Falko Ernst, a researcher at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based NGO for conflict resolution. “This administration didn’t want to engage in open warfare, but it isn’t being left up to them.”
Garcia Harfuch was attacked by as many as 28 gunmen, and sniper rifles and grenades were confiscated on the scene, said Ulises Lara, a spokesman for the city’s Attorney General’s Office. Authorities arrested 12 suspects shortly after the attack and a total of 19 people were detained by the end of the day, including the intellectual authors, Sheinbaum said.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is facing increased pressure to change his national security policies to crack down on worsening violence. The president, who is known as AMLO, emphasizes economic development over heavy-handed law enforcement as the only long-term solution. But he’s also been criticized for militarizing the country’s policing through the newly created National Guard without a plan to deal with underlying corruption.
On Saturday, Lopez Obrador said he would not “declare war on anyone” in response to the attack.
“We’re not going to violate human rights. We’re not going to permit massacres,” he said in a video posted to Twitter. “But we’re going to act and prevent these attacks from being committed, and we’re not going to make any agreements with organized crime like before.”
Brookings Institution security expert Vanda Felbab-Brown said the attack represented a “massive tactical failure” by the government given that officials had been threatened. She compared the attack in the capital, which had been off limits before in the country’s drug war, to when Colombia’s kingpins took on the government with targeted assassinations.
“This is going to be a wake up call to get serious about violent crime,” Felbab-Brown said. “It may be too late.”
El Universal columnist Raul Rodriguez Cortes wrote last week that the government had intercepted calls by organized crime groups, which said they were planning to target a top official. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency confirmed the calls were legitimate, Cortes said. Mexico then beefed up the security on four top officials that the cartel had reason to target, including Garcia Harfuch, Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard, head of the Financial Intelligence Unit Santiago Nieto and Durazo.
Jalisco New Generation, known by its Spanish acronym CJNG, is infamous for extreme violence and was responsible for one of the nation’s deadliest attacks on security forces, when 15 police officers were killed in an ambush in 2015. The U.S. has offered a $10 million bounty on information leading to the capture of the group’s leader, Nemesio Oseguera Ramos -- better known by his alias El Mencho.
While military-style ambushes and gunfights are common throughout Mexico, it’s rare that the bloodshed spills over into the capital city. Cartels have been escalating their attacks in recent months and some experts point to the extradition of El Mencho’s son to the U.S. in February as one catalyst. This week, a car loaded with explosives was seized by authorities in the vicinity of a refinery in the central state of Guanajuato.
Earlier this month, a federal judge and his wife were killed in the state of Colima. In October, Mexican Forces were overpowered by members of Sinaloa Cartel as they attempted to take in the son of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the world’s most notorious drug lord. And in November, at least nine members of a Mormon family, all U.S. citizens, were killed in northern Mexico in a suspected attack by cartels.
Three police officers were wounded in Friday’s confrontation, which broke out in the neighborhood of Lomas de Chapultepec at a little past 6:30 a.m. and was caught on cameras. Residents reported hearing rapid-fire shots that lasted almost a full minute. The attackers arrived in trucks, including one that bore the Grupo Carso logo. Carso, a Mexican conglomerate founded by billionaire Carlos Slim, said in a statement that the truck didn’t belong to the company.
On Friday, AMLO was wrapping up a cross-country tour that started June 1 and held his morning press conference in Morelia, in Michoacan state. AMLO often travels and goes to events without security.
“The president has decided to operate under a model of no security,” Durazo said in the press conference. “We are trying to look after his safety, regardless of his tours.”
According to researchers at InSight Crime, the cartel is rapidly expanding and has contacts throughout the U.S. and Latin America. It primarily sells marijuana, cocaine and synthetic drugs.
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“This comes after a wave of other concerning attacks that we’ve seen since last year,” said Maureen Meyer, Mexico director at the think tank Washington Office on Latin America. Recent attacks suggest Lopez Obrador’s strategy “hasn’t put a dent in the violence.”
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