Pubdate: Wed, 23 Dec 2009
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Page: A1, Front Page
Copyright: 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Authors: David Luhnow and Jose de Cordoba


Attack on Family of Marine Who Died in Drug Raid Suggests Cartels 
Turning to Terror

MEXICO CITY -- The brazen murder of several family members of a 
Mexican Naval hero threatens to start a dangerous new chapter in the 
country's drug war, in which cartels increasingly resort to terror 
tactics to try to force the government to back off.

More than a dozen hit men carrying AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles 
burst into a house in eastern Mexico around midnight Monday, gunning 
down several relatives of 3rd Petty Officer Melquisedet Angulo, the 
30-year-old who was hailed as a national hero last week after being 
killed in a battle that left drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva dead.

Mr. Angulo's mother, aunt, a sister and a brother were killed in the 
attack Tuesday.

Another sister was badly wounded and remained in critical condition, 
according to Rafael Gonzalez, the attorney general of Tabasco, the 
Gulf Coast state where the shootings took place. "We will not rest 
until we find those responsible for these killings," Mr. Gonzalez said.

The shooting came just hours after the enlisted sailor was buried 
with a military honor guard for his role last week in a Navy Special 
Forces operation that killed Mr. Beltran Leyva, the highest-profile 
drug lord taken down in Mexico since Osiel Cardenas, former head of 
the Gulf Cartel, was arrested in 2003.

The death of Mr. Beltran Leyva was a big boost to President Felipe 
Calderon, who has staked his presidency on an all-out assault against 
drug gangs by deploying 45,000 troops to several Mexican states.

Mr. Calderon and the military had praised the sailor who died in the 
raid as an example to all Mexicans for his courage.

The government's openness about his role was unusual. Normally the 
identities of Mexican soldiers and sailors who take part in antidrug 
operations are kept secret.

In a speech after Tuesday's killings, Mr. Calderon said, "These 
attacks are cowardly and detestable. They are an example of the lack 
of scruples of organized crime, going after the lives of innocents."

The conservative leader called on Mexicans not to lose heart in 
attacking drug gangs, who are seen by many Mexicans as more powerful 
than the government in parts of the country. About 15,000 people have 
died in drug-related violence since Mr. Calderon took power in December 2006.

Ricardo Aleman, a leading columnist at the Mexico City newspaper El 
Universal, said the killing of Mr. Angulo's family signals that the 
government's campaign against drug trafficking is at a potentially 
dangerous inflection point. "This has gone beyond cops and robbers 
and has become terrorism. The way a criminal group reacted against 
family like that, that's terrorism," he said in an interview.

Many Mexican analysts are worried that drug gangs will carry out 
ever-bolder acts of terror, including killing civilians or 
assassinating high-ranking officials.

In the past few years, drug gangs have resorted to increasingly 
barbaric acts in an effort to intimidate rival traffickers or law 
enforcement, using tactics adopted from Islamic terrorists such as 
videotaped decapitations. But until now, family members of drug gangs 
or the soldiers and police who fight them were largely considered off 
limits. Tuesday's killings could mark a further change in the 
unwritten rules of the Mexican drugs war.

Mexican gangs have started to target the families of rival drug 
lords, but never on this scale. "This is the first time that any 
thing like this has happened," said Raul Benitez, a professor at 
Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico and an expert on Mexico's armed forces.

He added it was too soon to say whether the murders marked the 
beginning of a sustained campaign against the families of 
armed-forces personnel who take part in antinarcotics operations.

Mexican police officials say hit men executed and wounded several 
family members of a navy sailor who died in last week's battle that 
killed drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva. WSJ's Mexico City Bureau Chief 
David Luhnow joins the News Hub to discuss. Plus, Jerry Seib says 10 
years into the new millennium, the nation is back where it started a 
decade ago.

The signs aren't encouraging. Last year, assailants believed to be 
linked to another violent cartel threw grenades in a crowded plaza 
during Independence Day celebrations in the colonial city of Morelia, 
killing eight and injuring dozens.

The action was seen at the time as a warning to the government to 
stop pressuring the gang.

In the past, many of the police and soldiers killed in the drugs war 
haven't been widely mourned by ordinary Mexicans, who assume that 
law-enforcement personnel are usually killed by drug gangs not 
because they were doing their jobs, but because they were in the pay 
of one side or another.

The murders of several members of the Angulo family are a rare case 
in Mexico where there is a clear-cut line between the good guys and 
the bad guys. Mothers hold an exalted place in Mexican society.

Even so, over the last two years, Mexicans have grown inured to the 
explosion of violence suffered by the nation.
Mexico's War on Drugs

"I'm not surprised," said Patricia Mendoza, a beautician in Mexico 
City. "The drug dealers told the president not to put the armed 
forces in the middle of things. I thought they would go after the Navy."

"By killing the families, the drug gangs are challenging the 
government," said Antonio Cruz, a messenger. "I think there will be 
more families murdered. Let's see who will win."

The sailor's family joins a growing list of Mexican federal police, 
army soldiers and government bureaucrats killed for having done their 
jobs to fight drug cartels.

"This shows the state's incapacity to protect the people on the front 
lines," said Mr. Aleman. He added that it had been a mistake for the 
Navy to release the enlisted man's name.

Mr. Calderon's office had no immediate response to questions about 
how the killers obtained the information about the man's family or 
whether procedure on keeping names confidential would be changed.

High-profile revenge tactics can have a far-reaching effect on morale 
and the ability of government agencies to attract new recruits to 
crime-fighting efforts, government officials say.

Others worry that the armed forces, already facing growing 
allegations of human rights abuses, could be tempted to carry out 
extrajudicial killings in a similar cycle of revenge.

"The Navy is going to be very angry, I hope they are not provoked 
into being paramilitaries," Mr. Benitez said.

Mr. Angulo was honored on Monday at a ceremony at the Navy's Mexico 
City headquarters, attended by the Naval high command.

Adm. Francisco Saynez pledged the Navy's support to the dead sailor's family.

"There are no words that can ease the pain of his friends and family 
. However, be certain that you count on the unconditional support 
from the Secretary of the Navy in these difficult hours," Adm. Saynez 
said during the ceremony.

Mr. Beltran Leyva's organization, originally from the western state 
of Sinaloa, is a major drug trafficking gang and was well known for 
its brutality.

Tuesday's killings suggest that the organization is functioning on 
some level despite the death of its leader.

Underlining that point, a handwritten message scrawled on cardboard 
by presumed drug traffickers turned up on Tuesday outside a nursery 
school in Cuernavaca, the town where Mr. Beltran Leyva was killed.

It said Mr. Beltran Leyva's mafia was alive and well and urged 
support for Edgar Valdez Villareal, a Texas-born member of the cartel 
who officials say was the late Mr. Beltran Leyva's top enforcer.

Known as "La Barbie" for his sandy colored hair, Mr. Valdez is 
considered to be a top contender to succeed Mr. Beltran Leyva as head 
of the cartel.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake