Another reason I no longer travel to or within Mexico.
Los Zetas is a highly organized band of criminals made up of former Mexican
Army Special Forces members (similar to our Green Berets). They know
weapons, tactics, strategy, organization . . . all of which makes them a
Here is an excellent analysis of what's going on in and around Monterrey,
August 25, 2010
MEXICO: LOS ZETAS AND THE KIDNAPPING THREAT IN MONTERREY
The U.S. Consulate in Monterrey, Mexico, posted a Warden Message on Aug. 23
regarding an Aug. 20 firefight outside the American School Foundation of
Monterrey (ASFM) in the upscale suburb of Santa Catarina that initially
appeared to be a kidnapping attempt.
Mexican authorities have denied initial reports that the incident
represented a kidnapping attempt on a student at the school, and the
evidence suggests the confrontation was the result of mistaken identity.
Still, the risk of falling victim to extortion or kidnapping in the
Monterrey region -- particularly among the wealthy -- will continue to
increase as the drug trafficking organization Los Zetas increasingly finds
itself against the wall.
The Aug. 20 incident arose when an executive protection (EP) team from
Fomento Economico Mexicano, S.A., (FEMSA) -- whose chief executive officer,
Jose Antonio Fernandez, has a daughter who attends ASFM -- was conducting
routine surveillance around the ASFM facilities around noon local time. At
that point, a group of armed men in two vans arrived and accused the FEMSA
EP team of working for a rival cartel. When the FEMSA EP team denied the
accusations and radioed for backup, a firefight erupted between the two
groups. Two FEMSA EP agents died and three others were injured in the
gunbattle, while four EP agents were taken hostage. The four agents were
released the morning of Aug. 21 after their captors verified their
identities, indicating that the armed group in fact was not targeting the
FEMSA EP team.
Still, the incident has tapped into ongoing fears in Mexico about
kidnapping. With pressure from both Mexican security forces and rival
groups, some Mexican organized criminal groups have moved into activities
like kidnapping and extortion to supplement their income. Although
kidnapping and extortion rackets are hardly new to the Monterrey area,
businesses and citizens in the area would be wise to be on the lookout for
signs of increasing kidnapping and extortion operations. Monterrey is a
target rich environment for kidnapping-for-ransom operations. Many of
Mexico's wealthy industrial elite call Monterrey home, and several of Latin
America's largest corporations are also based in Monterrey or have major
The deteriorating security situation in Monterrey has resulted from the
ongoing conflict between Los Zetas and the New Federation, an alliance
between the Sinaloa Federation, the Gulf cartel and La Familia Michoacana.
The conflict began in late January 2010 along the Texas-Mexico border region
and had spread to the Monterrey metropolitan region by early spring.
As the conflict progressed through the spring and summer months, Los Zetas
appeared to remain on the losing end of a New Federation and Mexican
military/law enforcement offensive. According to several open source
reports, Los Zetas lost its foothold in the Reynosa and Matamoros areas.
Additionally, the New Federation has increasingly challenged Los Zetas for
control of traditional Zeta strongholds like Nuevo Laredo and Monterrey.
Mexican military and law enforcement operations in the Monterrey region have
proven particularly damaging to senior Zeta leadership in Monterrey.
The Zeta leader in Monterrey, Hector "El Tori" Raul Luna Luna, was captured
in a Mexican military operation June 9. Less than a month later, Hector's
brother, Esteban "El Chachis" Luna Luna -- who had taken over the leadership
position in Monterrey -- was captured in yet another Mexican military
operation July 7. A senior lieutenant within the Los Zetas organization
known only as "El Sonrics" was chosen to be the third leader in Monterrey in
as many months after the arrest of Esteban Luna Luna. El Sonrics' tenure
lasted about as long as his predecessor, however, as he was killed in a
firefight with members of the Mexican military in Monterrey on Aug. 14 along
with three other members of Los Zetas acting as his bodyguards. In addition
to losing several key members of its leadership, Mexican authorities have
seized several large weapons caches belonging to Los Zetas, killing and
arresting numerous lower level Zeta operatives during the course of those
seizures and during other law enforcement and military operations.
With increasing pressure from both Mexican security forces and the New
Federation, Los Zetas is losing control of its mainstay drug income and
having to fight a battle for territory. This has required a tremendous
amount of resources and cash, making it increasingly likely that Los Zetas
will expand its kidnapping and extortion operations -- especially in the
Monterrey region -- to regenerate income flows.
Other Mexican criminal organizations have followed similar operational
models, such as the Arellano Felix organization (AFO), aka the Tijuana
cartel, and the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization, aka the Juarez
cartel. After suffering major setbacks to their leadership in the late 1990s
and early 2000s, including the deaths or arrests of six of the seven
brothers of the Arellano Felix family, AFO factions turned to kidnapping and
extortion to supplement their income, which had flagged due to an inability
to traffic drugs. The decision of the Teodoro "El Teo" Garcia Simental
faction of the AFO to pursue kidnapping and extortion proved a breaking
point within the AFO, however. The Arellano Felix family denounced the
practice, saying that it turned the population against the organization, and
Garcia went on to align his faction with the Sinaloa organization.
Similarly, the Juarez cartel increasingly has turned to kidnapping and
extortion as it has felt the pinch from the large deployment of Mexican
security forces to Juarez and northern Chihuahua state as well as from the
Sinaloa federation's offensive for control of the Juarez region. Juarez
business owners are frequently required to pay "cuotas," or extortion
payments, to the VCF enforcement arm, La Linea -- or risk having their
businesses set on fire or having their employees kidnapped or even executed.
With increasing frequency, this has forced Juarez business owners to shut
Previous Zeta kidnapping operations in the Monterrey region have been
operational or political in nature aimed at facilitating the group's
trafficking operations. Its victims included government officials and other
participants in the Mexican drug trade. Thus, the Monterrey Transit and
Roads secretaries were kidnapped from their homes May 31 in response to new
policies they had implemented.
Now, the Zetas' target set appears to have shifted along the lines of the
Tijuana and Juarez cartels and toward local business owners in a bid for
economic gain. In two such incidents, a used car salesman was kidnapped Aug.
8 as he arrived at his car lot and armed men posing as bakery employees
kidnapped the owner of a pawnshop Aug. 8.
Ultimately, kidnapping operations in Monterrey targeting local business
executives will likely increase as the Zetas become increasingly desperate.
As the Mexican government and cartel rivals continue to pressure Los Zetas,
business owners and private citizens should be on the lookout for certain
signals and indicators to help avoid increased Zeta kidnapping and extortion
operations. Like any major criminal organization in Mexico, Los Zetas will
conduct hostile surveillance of a target before launching any sort of
extortion or kidnapping operations. Situational awareness and comprehensive
countersurveillance programs can help identify hostile surveillance of a
business or a high net-worth individual, alerting possible targets of
potential criminal aggression to take the necessary actions to thwart an
Although measures to thwart kidnapping operations, such as the employment of
an executive protection team and a comprehensive countersurveillance
program, are quite helpful, organizations like Los Zetas backed into a
corner have shown themselves to be incredibly resourceful. The
organization's tactical expertise and military background will thus present
enormous challenges even to the most prepared individuals, teams and
Copyright 2010 STRATFOR.