CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – A drug gang that carried out the first successful car bombing against Mexican security forces likely 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 car bomb killed three people – including a federal police officer – Thursday in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, 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-Qaida playbook.
A street gang tied to the Juarez 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 that affects not only the Mexican people, but our own,” Crowley said Monday.
A graffiti message scrawled on a wall Monday threatened more attacks in the city across the border from El Paso, Texas. 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 has been battling the Juarez cartel for control of Ciudad Juarez in a 2-year-old war that has made the city one of the world’s deadliest.
Messages that presumed drug-gang members have scrawled on walls and banners and attached to the bodies of their victims frequently accuse Mexican federal forces of protecting the Sinaloa cartel, a charge President Felipe Calderon’s administration vehemently denies.
Monday’s graffiti 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.
“This is a whole new level” of aggression from drug gangs, 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 added that the Mexican government was too quick to dismiss the possibility that the motive behind the attack was political.
“When you state purposefully that your goal is to intimidate the police and scare the population it means that you intend to drive an even wider wedge between the government and the government’s popular support for the war on drugs,” he said.
The day after the bombing, Mexican Attorney General Arturo Chavez insisted there was no evidence of “narcoterrorism” in Mexico or any ideological motive behind the attack. On Monday, officials from his office said they could provide no new information on the ongoing investigation.