Gang plots border attack
Department of Homeland Security document reveals MS-13 plan
By Sara A. Carter and Kenneth Todd Ruiz, Staff Writers


OTHER INCIDENTS
Along with a plot to launch coordinated attacks against law enforcement officers along the border, several attacks against Border Patrol agents are documented in a Jan. 20 Department of Homeland Security document obtained by the Daily Bulletin.

In May 2005, someone was seen climbing down from a tree carrying a high-caliber rifle with a "large" scope while an attempted smuggling operation was under way along the Rio Grande, the river border between Texas and Mexico.

A shooter on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande used a rifle to fire at Border Patrol agents who were arresting four illegal immigrants on Dec. 28.

One of two Border Patrol boats was struck after 20 to 25 rounds were fired at the boats from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande on Dec. 30.

A Border Patrol vehicle was struck by one of several rounds fired from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande on Jan. 4.

On Jan. 10, someone fired into the air with a semi-automatic weapon from the Mexican side of the Rio Grande during a drug-smuggling operation observed by Border Patrol agents.


Members of a violent international gang working for drug cartels in Central and South America are planning coordinated attacks along the U.S. border with Mexico, according to a Department of Homeland Security document obtained by the Daily Bulletin.

Detailed inside a Jan. 20 officer safety alert, the plot's ultimate goal is to "begin gaining control of areas, cities and regions within the U.S."

The information comes from the interrogation of a captured member of Mara Savatrucha, or MS-13, a transnational criminal syndicate born from displaced El Salvadoran death squads from the 1980s.

The MS-13 member, who claimed to have smuggled cocaine for the Gulf Cartel, explained a plan to amass MS-13 members in Mexican border towns such as Nuevo Laredo, Acuna, Ojinaga and Juarez. The Gulf Cartel runs its drug smuggling operations from Del Rio, Texas, to south of Matamoros, Mexico.

"After enough members have been pre-positioned along the border, a coordinated attack using firearms was to commence against all law enforcement, to include Border Patrol," the alert states.

Mike Friel, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Protection, would not comment specifically on the alert.

Through investment, technology and infrastructure, Friel said, Homeland Security is "determined to gain control of the border."

Law enforcement officials along the border said they had not received the alert.

Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez of Zapata County in Texas said he was angry about the alert because he has never received information from the Department of Homeland Security about this or any other threat along the Texas border.

"That is something that I was not aware of, but information like this should be given to us immediately," he said.

Gonzalez said it's another example of poor communication between law enforcement agencies.

"Since Sept. 11, we heard there was going to be a sharing of information, but today we still haven't received anything," he said. "All the information of threat levels, I get through the media."

In Arizona's Santa Cruz County, where in May a sniper shot two Border Patrol agents in the legs, Sheriff Tony Estrada said he was alarmed by the documented threat.

"That message seems to be the strongest type of indicator that they are seriously planning to use force," he said.

Estrada added that it shows how frustrated the smugglers have become, but said the plot is a "bad idea" that wouldn't work.

"It would be real dumb move," he said. "If that should happen, and if any of our agents are threatened or injured or killed, it's going to create a lot of unity and cooperation."

Gonzalez added that his deputies have seen increasing violence from drug cartels and what he believes are Mexican soldiers working for them.

A member of the 16-county Texas Sheriff's Border Coalition, Gonzalez said he would immediately inform other sheriffs.

As a precaution, he would change how his deputies operate, he said. Some of his deputies have been patrolling the border alone.

"We're going to be better prepared, and the officers will too," he said. "Unfortunately (the cartels) are not going to wait."

According to a secretary in the office of Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman Tom Vinger, Vinger said he had no information about the potential threat.

Andrea Simmons of the FBI's office in El Paso, Texas, said she is familiar with such threats, but said her office is not investigating any such attacks.

"We haven't had any specific threats regarding that or any information for us to be able to follow up on," she said.

AGENTS UNDER FIRE

The alert documents several armed, brazen attacks on Border Patrol agents between May and January.

Violence at the border has risen dramatically during the past couple of years, according to law enforcement officers all along the border.

Estrada said crime there is "more competitive, more profitable and more violent," and that increased scrutiny at the border and intensified law enforcement efforts have frustrated criminal elements in Mexico.

A smuggler named Pablo "El Patron" Mercado said he will no longer tolerate the loss of contraband and has ordered smugglers to carry firearms, according to a Jan. 13 alert referenced in the document.

Sgt. Benjamin Reyna of the Bisbee Police Department in Arizona said he's seen much more violence in the past several years.

"It's on the increase," he said. "They have a lot less fear of law enforcement now."

Reyna said cartel enforcers, smugglers and people suspected of being current and former Mexican military are taking shots at law enforcement officers.

CENTRAL AMERICAN INTERESTS

The primary subject of the alert concerns a confrontation between a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector and 20 men armed with assault rifles in the area where a creek feeds into the Rio Grande in Zapata County on Jan. 9.

The inspector, who was on horseback, said a boat dropped the group off inside U.S. territory.

Some of the subjects appeared to be carrying automatic assault rifles, and threatened to shoot the inspector's dogs, the alert stated.

The inspector had his gun and badge hidden under his jacket so the men could not see that he was a law enforcement agent. He told the armed men he was a rancher.

"(He) stated that he believed this might have saved his life," the alert stated.

The inspector, who is fluent in Spanish and has lived near the border all his life, believed the men were not Mexican nationals, based on their accents.

The incident report concluded that the men probably were from Central America and members of either MS-13 or ex-Guatemalan Kaibiles, a military special forces unit specializing in jungle warfare and counterinsurgency.