As violence along the U.S.-Mexico border escalates, Mexican drug cartels have found a new and lethal weapon, borrowed from the bloody annals of Mideast terror – the car bomb. This summer, the Juarez drug cartel used a remote-controlled car bomb to kill four and wound 20 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's murder capital, creating a massive blast within walking distance of downtown El Paso, Texas, and a second car bomb exploded outside a police station in Ciudad Victoria.
An internal Department of Homeland Security document describes the car bomb used in Ciudad Juarez as the latest tactic that the armed wing of the Juarez cartel, La Linea, has lifted from Islamic jihadis. "La Linea," says the document, "has used terror tactics generally seen in Iraq and Afghanistan – mass video-recorded decapitations, targeting of civilians, and most recently the July 15 VBIED [car bomb] – to instill fear among rivals, law enforcement and the general public."
The Ciudad Juarez car bomb was particularly cruel, and effective, because the cartel used a wounded man as bait to lure first responders to the scene before detonating the device, apparently via cell phone. The blast killed the wounded man, a police officer, a doctor and a bystander.
According to the DHS report, "First responders were lured into the kill zone with an emergency call stating a wounded police officer was at a specific location. Post event analysis revealed the attackers had dressed a wounded civilian in a municipal police officer uniform."
The cartel was targeting law enforcement because of the arrest of a high-ranking La Linea member, Jesus Armando Acosta Guerrero, AKA El 35, and because of a belief that Mexican officials were favoring, and aiding, the rival Sinaloa drug cartel.
More than 20 pounds of explosives were used in the blast. At the scene Mexican officials found the remains of a green Ford Focus and a briefcase, parts of a bomb that had apparently been detonated by remote control, and three-inch dry-wall screws, which had been packed into the bomb to inflict maximum damage on human targets. Packaging from a chemical explosive was found on a nearby rooftop.
The DHS report highlighted the proximity of the explosion to downtown El Paso, Texas. "The bomb exploded within walking distance from Good Neighbor International Bridge, a main POE [point of entry] connecting El Paso, Texas, with Ciudad Juarez, highlighting the potential for American casualties if similar attacks are conducted in the future."
According to a document from the ATF's U.S. Bomb Data Center, "This is believed to be the first use of a VBIED by Mexican [drug cartels]." The document also states that "Graffiti posted by La Linea near the scene threatened future bombings targeting law enforcement." A message at the scene said, "We still have car bombs."
The document reveals that a week after the Ciudad Juarez explosion, Mexican authorities found similar explosive materials after a gun battle with Juarez cartel members near the city of Madera.
A second car bomb exploded outside police headquarters in Ciudad Victoria, Mexico, 200 miles south of Juarez, on August 5. Though police vehicles were damaged, no one was injured.
This Tuesday, a bomb was found on a bridge connecting Ciudad Juarez to El Paso and defused after traffic on the Mexican side of the border had been held up for two hours.
The ATF had already been helping Mexican authorities deal with hand grenades, which have become a favored weapon of the cartels. In the past month, grenades have been thrown at one of the bridges that links Ciudad Juarez to El Paso, and at a TV station in Nuevo Laredo, another city on the Texas border.
The DHS report says there is "no indication [the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels] will target US law enforcement personnel." It warns, however, that "there is potential … for collateral injury to US persons in Mexico and along the border regions as violence escalates."