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SEVERAL US STATE CAPITOL BOMB THREATS, LA FAMILIA MICHOACANA CARTEL ATTACKS, AND ECUADOR'S MOST NOTORIOUS CRIME LEADER FITO ESCAPES FROM PRISON

January 1-10, 2024 | Issue 1 - NORTHCOM/SOUTHCOM and Extremism Teams

Pike Wipperfurth, Chloe Woodbine, Kiara Alexander, Tejas Vaidya, Ektoras Papadimitriou, Victoria Valová

Evan Beachler, Editor


Multiple State Building Bomb Threats[1]


Date: January 3, 2024

Location: USA

Parties involved: Federal law enforcement; federal law enforcement personnel; state law enforcement; state emergency response personnel; local law enforcement; local emergency response personnel, government officials; public administrators; political leaders, government officials

The eventSeveral US state capitol buildings across the country received bomb threats via email Wednesday morning, prompting site evacuations, security response measures, and ongoing investigations by state and federal authorities. Connecticut, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Montana are among the states that received threatening email messages of explosives placed at capitol buildings, prompting evacuations of at-risk buildings and facilities.[2] Other states, including Wyoming, Oklahoma, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Missouri, and Maryland, received threatening emails but found no credible threat and continued their operations.[3] Normal operations resumed, and states received the all-clear after security and bomb-sniffing dog sweeps revealed no explosive materials or lingering threats.

Analysis & Implications:

  • The threats are likely meant to have a psychological and operational impact on public servants such as public administrators, political leaders, and emergency response personnel. By sending threatening emails directly to public administrators and political leaders, the threat actors are likely seeking to intimidate and influence their behavior by permeating a mindset that they are reachable and that their daily lives can be disrupted and influenced. There is a roughly even chance that threat actors are carrying out consistent threats and ‘swatting’ events with the goal of generating a psychological environment of the impending threat of attack among public servants by disrupting normal operations, causing operational delays, and drawing emergency response personnel. It is likely that consistently being called to false alarm threats will put an additional operational strain on emergency response organizations and personnel, likely costing local and federal response organizations resources and desensitizing and psychologically straining their personnel to active threats.

  • Law enforcement agencies will very likely enhance preventive measures and heighten security at critical infrastructure, government buildings, and public spaces. Security forces will very likely reinforce surveillance capabilities to monitor and respond effectively to potential security threats. Security agencies within and across targeted states will very likely share information about swatting incidents and intelligence to enhance preparedness and coordination. The US government will likely impose more stringent penalties to deter swatting incidents.

  • Law enforcement agencies will very likely reinforce cyber monitoring capabilities and employ email tracking systems to trace the origin of threatening emails and investigate IP addresses and other metadata to identify potential indicators of the threat maker's location or identity. Investigators will very likely employ psychological profiling of the threat emails in swatting incidents to understand the threat maker's psychological traits, behavioral patterns, and potential motives.


Date: January 4, 2024

Location: Guerrero, Mexico

Parties involved: Mexican government; local government; law enforcement; Mexican drug cartels, La Familia Michoacana cartel; Jalisco Nueva Generacion cartel; Los Tlacos local cartel; local self-defense groups; Director of the Minerva Bello Center, Jośe Filiberto Velázquez; Religious and human rights organization, Minerva Bello Center; local communities; citizens of Helidoro Castillo

The event: Suspected members of La Familia Michoacana launched an attack using firearms and drones in the Helidoro Castillo community of Guerrero State amid an escalating conflict between cartels that has made this region a hotspot of violence. Reportedly, the cartel has killed as many as 30 people, but authorities were unable to confirm the number of casualties due to the remoteness of the location.[4] Subsequent reports claimed the victims of the attack were members of the Los Tlacos cartel. La Familia Michoacana and Los Tlacos cartels have been fighting a turf war in this area of Guerrero for several months.[5] 

Analysis & Implications:

  • Cartels will very likely continue to strategically employ drones to seek a tactical advantage in their operations, demonstrating an adaptation to modern tools and methods. The observed increase in drone use for surveillance, intelligence gathering, and attacks is likely a strategic intent to enhance operational capabilities, gain a tactical advantage, and carry out attacks with greater precision. The escalating use of drones by cartels very likely poses complex challenges for law enforcement, including the tracking of drones. This challenge will likely alter the security landscape and necessitate a reassessment of regulatory frameworks and counter-drone measures.

  • Los Tlacos will very likely attempt to gather intelligence on their rivals through coercive means before forcefully retaliating. They will likely leverage existing relationships with local officials to acquire information, very likely by offering monetary rewards. They will very likely seek out civilians suspected of cooperating with their adversaries to extract information, very likely through the threat or use of violence against them or their families.

  • Los Tlacos will very likely seek to carry out reprisal attacks against La Familia Michoacana, very likely by attacking facilities and outposts and assassinating suspected members. They will likely attack identified infrastructure such as warehouses, drug production sites, and security outposts, very likely by raids, drones, car bombs, and IEDs. They will likely pose as self-defense groups when attempting to kill rivals, very likely to avoid increased attention by security forces and garner civilian support.  


Date: January 7, 2024

Location: Guayaquil, Ecuador

Parties involved: Ecuadorian President Daniel Noboa; Ecuador; Ecuadorian military; Ecuadorian law enforcement; Los Choneros leader Adolfo Macías, alias “Fito”; Los Choneros; Ecuadorian civilians;

The event: Ecuador’s most notorious criminal gang leader, Fito, is missing from the prison where he was serving a 34-year sentence for drug trafficking and murder. He was last seen hours before his scheduled relocation to a new facility. The law enforcement detained two prison guards for allegedly helping facilitate the escape.[6] President Noboa has since placed the country into a state of emergency, enforcing a curfew for civilians.[7] 

Analysis & Implications:

  • As a result of this event, the public’s trust is very likely to diminish in the new government’s ability to enforce security within the country. Civilians will very likely voice their disapproval of current law enforcement through social media platforms, which will almost certainly prompt the government to take new approaches to ensure civilian safety. The government will almost certainly enact major changes to law enforcement structures to regain public trust, such as increasing penalties for officers found guilty of corroborating with known criminals.

  • Other incarcerated gang leaders will very likely seek to exploit the ensuing instability to avoid being transferred to a maximum-security prison. They will very likely attempt to escape, very likely by leveraging existing relationships with coerced officials. Gangs will very likely threaten violence against prison guards and escalate attacks against security forces, civilians, and state institutions, very likely to dissuade the government from transferring leaders.

 

[1] Government Building Columns by Wix images

[2] Multiple state capitols receive bomb threats, prompting lockdowns, The Hill, January 2024, https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/4387012-multiple-state-capitols-receive-bomb-threats-prompting-lockdowns/ 

[3] Bomb threats lead to brief lockdowns and the evacuation of multiple state capitols, AP News, https://apnews.com/article/state-capitol-threat-evacuation-lockdown-dfef5fbb98ec6572474807c260533b05

[4] A drug cartel has attacked a remote Mexican community with drones and gunmen, rights group says, AP , January 2024, https://apnews.com/article/mexico-cartel-attack-guerrero-drones-helidoro-castillo-ed795770ce9a09b1c063d91913268b99 

[5] Quién es “El Necho”, el líder de Los Tlacos mencionado tras la masacre de La Familia Michoacana en Guerrero, Infobae (Translated by Google), January 2024, https://www.infobae.com/mexico/2024/01/06/quien-es-el-necho-lider-de-los-tlacos-el-rival-de-la-familia-michoacana-en-guerrero/ 

[6] Ecuador’s ‘most-wanted’ criminal disappears from prison, Reuters, January 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/ecuadors-most-wanted-criminal-disappears-prison-2024-01-08/

[7] Ecuador under state of emergency after drug lord Jose Adolfo Macias escapes maximum security jail, ABC News, January 2024, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-01-09/ecuador-under-emergency-as-drug-lord-fito-escapes-jail/103298002

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