DEA Special Agent: Mexican Cartels Behind Attack Are ‘Terrorist Groups’
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Although it is too early to determine a conclusive motive in Monday’s ambush attack that killed nine family members with ties to Utah in northern Mexico, a local Drug Enforcement Administration official said the people responsible are “savages and barbarians.”
“You’re talking about groups of individuals who, in my opinion, should be classified as terrorists. This is terrorist type activity. You’re killing helpless women and small children – that’s terrorist activity,” said Utah District Agent in Charge Brian Besser. “The cartels are an army. I believe they are terrorist groups and I think that this incident portrays exactly what I’m saying.”
Among those dead are three women and six children – all with dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship. Seven additional children were flown from Mexico to Arizona where they were taken to hospitals in Tucson.
Although authorities are investigating whether the ambush was the result of mistaken identity, Besser was not so sure.
“These folks that were murdered were traveling in caravan style, which is not uncommon for safety down there. The problem is, is if you’ve got one cartel and they’re looking at a caravan, they don’t know necessarily who you are, or maybe they do,” Besser said. “It could have been a vendetta. It could have been a personal beef. It could have been as something as simple as a robbery.”
He said it doesn’t change the fact that he believes the attack was intentional.
“Nothing there looks accidental or haphazard. That looks like it was fully intended to go the way it did, and I know the individuals that were murdered, at least in the intelligence that I’ve seen, appear to be had been found almost in execution-style,” Besser said.
Chihuahua Attorney General Cesar Peniche Espejel said Tuesday the group was driving from Bavispe, Sonora, to Janos, Chihuahua, when they were killed.
The victims were ambushed in broad daylight some 70 miles south of the Arizona border. Besser described the area between the two Mexican states as very volatile.
“Both of those states are intimately interwoven in cartel activity. So, the cartels obviously are proprietary. They’re territorial,” he said.
The area is also the site where offshoot sects of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have been targeted before.
“There has been conflict between the LeBaron family and some of the cartels down there. I believe they’ve been victimized in the past, which is horrible,” Besser said.
Their history is troubled, violent and goes back and forth.
Dating as far back as the 1970s, polygamy cult leader Ervil LeBaron ordered the murders of dozens of people, including rival religious leaders – in the U.S. and Mexico.
LeBaron died in his Utah prison cell in 1981. The cause of death was a heart attack.
As reported in the Deseret News, in 2009, 31-year-old Benjamin LeBaron was shot and killed after denouncing cartel members who had kidnapped his brother and demanded $1 million, which he refused to pay.
Despite the egregious nature of this crime, Besser said cartel violence like this is normal and frequent – in some cases on a daily basis.
“The intelligence reports, the pictures – the photographs that I see on a weekly basis – not monthly, weekly basis, are akin to this exact same activity,” Besser said. “I don’t mean to be crass, but human heads in coolers, people being you know skinned alive, torturing homicides – just reckless carnage, savagery going on down there. None of that makes the news, but it happens on a daily and weekly basis.”
Besser said he believes the only way to deal with violent people is through counter-violence.
He cautioned that the cartel’s impact goes beyond this tragedy in Mexico, too.
“A lot of people oftentimes think that the cartels are way down there – they’re in Mexico. And as I travel across the state, you know, I remind people that the cartels are a multi-billion dollar business. They are better networked than we are. They oftentimes have better weaponry, better technology. They have more surrogates. They have people everywhere. And for us to be myopic, and think that individuals from those cartels aren’t here in Salt Lake City is foolish,” Besser said. “They do have people here and those people that are here that my office here is dealing with. Their goal is to generate as many proceeds monetarily as they can off the backs of Americans with drugs and then funnel those proceeds back down to Mexico. And, anyone or anything that gets in their way will be a victim of that.”
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