CENTRAL AMERICA NEWS — Guatemalan police are cracking down on gang members who use explosive devices to carry out their criminal schemes. In two separate operations, they captured three alleged gang members who were carrying improvised bombs before the weapons could be detonated.
Just outside of Guatemala City, a man and a woman allegedly carrying improvised explosives were arrested August 27 by investigators from the Department of Crimes against Life, of the Specialized Division of Criminal Investigation. Both suspects were carrying cellphones which had been rigged to donate improvised bombs, as well as instructions on how to make such weapons.
The Ministry of Government identified the two suspects as Yesenia Sofía del Águila Hernández, 26, also known as “La Serpiente,” and Luis Alejandro Morataya Sicaja, 23, who also uses the name “Jordan.” They both allegedly belong to the Vatos Locos faction of the Barrio 18 (M-18) gang, which is also known as 18th Street.
During the arrest, police seized two other cellphones that La Serpiente and Jordan were carrying. The devices held incriminating video and photos of the suspects killing two women the day before they were captured.
A little more than two weeks before that arrest, agents with the Guatemalan National Civil Police (PNC) — in cooperation with the Army’s Citizenry Security and the Maya Task Force — also arrested Denis Aníbal Conde in northwest Guatemala City. During that operation they also seized a backpack filled with eight ounces of explosives, a shotgun, and two cartridges for an anti-aircraft machine gun.
Conde, 38, is an alleged hitman and leader of the Pequeños Sicarios faction of the Barrio 18 gang. Since 1999, police have arrested him for 11 offenses, including aggravated robbery, death threats, and carrying explosive devices, according to Pablo Castillo, spokesman for the National Civil Police. The PNC suspects that he has carried out multiple attacks in Guatemala City against businesses, delivery trucks, and civilians.
The threat of gang members with explosives
The arrests of the alleged Barrio 18 members demonstrate that Guatemalan security forces are cracking down on criminal groups which used improvised bombs.
“The authorities cannot allow these criminal groups to have those capabilities because it would be a danger to society,” said Sandino Asturias, director of the Center of Guatemalan Studies. “The authorities are using criminal investigation and specialized systems to dismantle the gang’s structures.”
Gangs use explosives to commit extortion
Barrio 18 and other gangs, such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) often use the threat of improvised bombs to commit extortion against bus drivers, business owners, and individuals.
“The gangs have found extortion is a good mechanism to finance their activities, in particular, the extortion of public transportation,” Asturias said. “The authorities have acted quickly and have dismantled dozens of gangs dedicated to extortion thanks to the good use of intelligence and police investigation.”
The captures of La Serpiente, Jordan, and Conde are just the most recent in a series of successful operations conducted by security forces this year against gang members in possession of explosives.
For example, in July, police agents captured suspected Barrio 18 members Álvaro Elías Xocoy Alvizures, 20, and José Misael Shin Muyuz, 20, for allegedly threatening a shopkeeper with a grenade. The two were arrested less than three weeks after a grenade attack, against a water truck, killed one woman and injured 11 people; police captured four alleged gang members — three minors and one adult — in connection with the attack.