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Jan 30, 2013 | 11:00 GMT

Mexico Security Memo: Unusual Cartel Violence in Sonora

Stratfor

Executions in Northern Sonora State

A series of executions in northern Sonora state near the U.S. border highlights continuing organized crime-related conflicts in the region. On Jan. 26, a male body was hung from a bridge in Agua Prieta. On Jan. 28, authorities discovered three bodies and two rifles in a vehicle in Cananea. The same day in Nogales, unidentified gunmen killed three individuals in two separate instances. The quick succession of these incidents follows the pattern of increased violence that began in northern Sonora state in mid-2012, though violence is still lower in Sonora than in other parts of Mexico.

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The Sinaloa Federation and independent drug traffickers share Agua Prieta, Cananea and Nogales. It is common for drug traffickers to purchase illicit drugs from the Sinaloa Federation and use ports of entry in Agua Prieta and Nogales to transport the drugs into the United States. Cananea lies on the primary route from Puerto Penasco, where illicit drugs arrive from primarily maritime routes, to Agua Prieta.

Although the motives for the deaths since Jan. 26 remain unknown, the criminal links between the three locations and the short time frame between the violent acts suggest that at least some of the incidents may be related. The slight escalation of violence in northern Sonora state indicates challenges to Sinaloa Federation's hegemony over trafficking through the region. The two recent executions in Agua Prieta and Cananea in particular point to organized crime.

The Knights Templar in Hidalgo State

Three male bodies with gunshot wounds and signs of torture were discovered Jan. 26 in the Apaxco community of Atotonilco de Tula, Hidalgo state. Accompanying the bodies was a message that said, "[This happened to you] for thinking you were Knights Templar." This is part of a relatively high number of homicides for Hidalgo state from Jan. 24 to Jan. 26, during which 10 individuals were executed in various municipalities throughout the southern half of Hidalgo state. The message with the three bodies implied the Knights Templar killed the men, and although disinformation is common in narcomantas, other narcomantas and reports from Hidalgo state authorities corroborate the presence of the Knights Templar in Hidalgo state since August 2012.

Prior to 2012, Los Zetas maintained command of Hidalgo state, which is reportedly the birthplace of Los Zetas' former top leader, Heriberto "EL Lazca" Lazcano Lazcano. But law enforcement and military operations in the state during 2011 and 2012 heavily targeted Los Zetas. Although it is unlikely Los Zetas have been removed entirely from Hidalgo state, it is apparent that they have lost substantial control over the region. The lack of reported Zetas activity, the increased Knights Templar activity and the relocation of Zetas plaza bosses from Hidalgo state, including Abdel Isaac "El Comandante King Kong" Aquiahuatl Garcia, who was killed in a gunfight with the Mexican military in Guadalupe, Zacatecas state, all point to a loss of Zetas control.

Even with the unlikely situation that Los Zetas are entirely absent from Hidalgo state, levels of violence remain relatively high for the state, as they have since violence escalated in May 2012. The sustained levels of violence and the recent activity indicate inter-cartel violence — meaning the Knights Templar are confronting rival criminal groups in Hidalgo state.

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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