Mexico’s most powerful drugs cartel ambushed the capital’s police chief in an upscale residential district on Friday, according to police, killing two officers and one passer-by in a serious blow to the government’s security strategy.
Omar García Harfuch, the police chief, suffered three bullet wounds but survived the attack, writing in a tweet from hospital: “This morning, we suffered a cowardly attack by the CJNG,” using the Spanish acronym for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
The gunmen intercepted the police chief’s car as he travelled to work. Grainy security videos from the scene, aired on television and social media, showed a truck and another vehicle pulling up and heavily armed men getting out at about 6.30am. According to unconfirmed reports, they were disguised as construction workers.
On recordings by local residents, dozens of shots could be heard. Twelve people were arrested and weapons, including a gun usually used by snipers, were seized after police swarmed the scene.
“It’s very surprising the ease with which they did this,” said Ricardo Márquez Blas, a security analyst. “The criminals’ intelligence was little short of impeccable.”
A forensic officer places marks next to bullet casings. The attackers had ‘impeccable’ intelligence, said one security analyst © REUTERS
Alfonso Durazo, the federal security minister, confirmed that the government this month intercepted a telephone call between presumed members of the cartel planning an attack on a high-level official.
As a result, the government increased security for several officials, including Mr García Harfuch, who has been cracking down on drug retailing in the capital.
Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, a close ally of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, called the attack a response to “the very good work that is being done to guarantee peace and tranquillity”.
Just this week, flanked by the president, she had hailed a 22 per cent drop in murders in the capital in the past year.
The attack was, however, seen as a blow to the president’s vaunted “hugs not bullets” strategy that has led to criticism that he is soft on crime. It follows a botched attempt last year to arrest Ovidio Guzmán, son of jailed Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and the shocking murder of members of a Mormon community, including six children, last December.
“This [attack on García Harfuch] is a consequence of the systematic failure to pursue organised crime and its leaders,” said Mr Márquez Blas. He expected no change in public security policy “even though it isn’t working”.
But Manelich Castilla, former head of Mexico’s now defunct Federal Police, told Milenio television the attack “has to be a watershed. We have to send a message of repudiation to organised crime”.
Mr García Harfuch vowed, from his hospital bed, to continue fighting against organised crime.
But a survey published this week by Causa en Común, an NGO, highlighted the difficulties. It found half of Mexican police had to buy their own boots and bullets and almost 40 per cent earned under $435 a month.