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Nov 14, 2012 | 11:16 GMT

Mexico Security Memo: Federal Police Under Attack in Coahuila State

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Federal Police in Torreon

Gunmen opened fire on federal police Nov. 12 under the Plateado Bridge, which connects Torreon, Coahuila state, and Gomez Palacio, Durango state. Two officers were wounded. Several hours later, another group of gunmen fired on the hospital where the wounded police officers were being treated, causing property damage but no injuries. These shootings are the ninth attack on federal police in Torreon in six weeks. The attacks on federal police do not mark a further increase in violence, but rather a shift in which the Federal Police increasingly have become the target of cartel attacks.

Coahuila state, particularly in Torreon, has seen a sharp uptick in violence during 2012 as cartels fight for control of valuable transit routes along highways through Coahuila's cities. The most recent escalation in violence began around April in a conflict between Los Zetas on one side and the Gulf cartel, the Sinaloa Federation and possibly the Knights Templar, on the other.

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The increasing attacks have forced the federal police to take defensive measures, such as retreating to safer bases and reportedly increasing their security posture while patrolling the city. But the continued attacks — four of which have taken place since the Oct. 29 incident — show the increased security has yet to deter the gunmen. The perpetrators and motives behind these attacks remain unknown. Such deliberate attacks, however, typically are intended to coerce law enforcement into satisfying the criminal organization's demands.

Nothing suggests that attacks against Federal Police in Torreon will subside in the near term. Even if the attacks taper off, federal police will likely increase their own operations targeting organized crime in response to the attacks that have already happened. This means violence between gunmen and law enforcement could increase in Torreon.

Knights Templar Communication Networks

During military operations Nov. 6-9 in the Michoacan state municipalities of Coahuayana, Coalcoman, Aquila, Lazaro Cardenas and Arteaga, the Mexican navy dismantled a communications network including batteries, cables, 10 antennas and other equipment that presumably belonged to the Knights Templar. Mexican cartels have long used their own radio communication networks in Mexico to evade perceived operational security concerns regarding cellular phone communications and to permit constant communication between cartel members in areas lacking cellular phone signals.

The Knights Templar, who dominate Michoacan state, have demonstrated coordinated activities over a broad area that such a network would facilitate. For example, elements of the Knights Templar set fire to five locations belonging to Sabritas, a Mexican subsidiary of PepsiCo Inc., on May 25 in several municipalities of Michoacan and Guanajuato states. In another example of coordinated attacks, Knights Templar members attacked fuel stations with firearms and incendiary devices over a three-hour period Aug. 10 in several Guanajuato state municipalities while engaging with the military in various areas of Michoacan state.

Targeting communications networks of the Knights Templar marks a more comprehensive operation by the navy against the criminal group than merely targeting individual members or drug production sites. If this is the case, violence between the military and cartel gunmen in Michoacan may increase as they encounter each other more frequently. Especially with the Knights Templar, such conflicts can erupt into widespread firefights.

Editor's Note: We now offer the daily Mexico Security Monitor, an additional custom intelligence service geared toward organizations with operations or interests in the region, designed to provide more detailed and in-depth coverage of the situation. To learn more about this new fee-based custom service, visit www.stratfor.com/msm.

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