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Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 16: MS-13 Suspected in Car Bombing that Injures Two Policía Nacional Civil (PNC) in Soyapango, El Salvador

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Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 16: MS-13 Suspected in Car Bombing that Injures Two Policía Nacional Civil (PNC) in Soyapango, El Salvador

 

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker

 

Two members of El Salvador’s national civil police, the Policía Nacional Civil (PNC), were injured when a car exploded after they responded to a report of a dead body left in an abandoned car. The incident occurred in Colonia Montes de San Barolo 3 in Soyapango on Monday, 29 April 2019. Members of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) are suspected to have detonated an explosive secreted in the vehicle in an anti-personnel attack directed against the police.

 

 

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Aftermath of car bombing targeting PNC police officers. 

Source: PNC El Salvador

 

Key Information: Associated Press, “MS-13 Gang Put Fake Body in Car, Then Detonated a Bomb When Police Came.” New York Times. 29 April 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/29/world/americas/el-salvador-ms-13-gang.html:

A street gang in El Salvador put a fake body in an abandoned car to lure police into a car-bomb attack, wounding two officers…

 

The authorities said suspected gang members wrapped a mannequin in blankets inside a car and then detonated explosives in the vehicle when police arrived to investigate what they thought was a body at a soccer field on the outskirts of San Salvador, the capital…

 

Howard Cotto, the national police director, said the attacks were planned and carried out by the Mara Salvatrucha gang, known as MS-13.

Key Information: “Pandilleros hacen explotar un Coche Bomba en Soyapango; hay dos PNC heridos.” Diario La Huella. 29 April 2019, https://diariolahuella.com/pandilleros-hacen-explotar-un-coche-bomba-en-soyapango-hay-dos-pnc-heridos/:

Dos elementos de la Policía Nacional Civil (PNC) resultaron con graves lesiones al explotar un Coche Bomba en una cancha en la colonia Montes de San Bartolo 3, en el municipio de Soyapango.

 

Previo a la explosión del vehículo la policía fue alertada de un supuesto cadáver al interior del «carro abandonado» pero resultó ser falso lo que en realidad se trataba de un Coche Bomba de pandilleros para atentar contra la vida de los policías…

 

No es la primer vez que los pandilleros utilizan el método de Coche Bomba para realizar atentados, el 28 de agosto del año 2015, tras la ruptura de la llamada tregua del Gobierno con las Pandillas, dos integrantes de la “Pandilla 18 Revolucionarios” participaron en la colocación de explosivos dentro de un vehículo, en contra del centro de Gobierno. También en septiembre de ese mismo año explotaron uno explosivos colocados al interior de un automóvil en la Urbanización Buenos Aires, en San Salvador, frente al Ministerio de Hacienda.

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Salvadoran prosecutor (Fiscalía General de la República) announces anti-gang specialist participation in vehicle explosion and subsequent fire that injured various members of the PNC

Source: https://twitter.com/FGR_SV/status/1122865935050792960

 

Key Information: “TERRORISMO EN EL SALVADOR: Explosivo utilizado en Soyapango, donde dos policías resultaron lesionados, fue un «artefacto improvisado»,” Chronio. 30 April 2019, http://cronio.sv/nacionales/terrorismo-explosivo-utilizado-en-soyapango-donde-dos-policias-resultaron-lesionados-fue-un-artefacto-improvisado/:

Este martes, autoridades de la Policía Nacional Civil (PNC) detallaron que el explosivo colocado en un automóvil que dejó a dos policías lesionados el pasado lunes en el municipio de Soyapango, fue un “artefacto improvisado”.

 

Fue el vocero de la institución, el inspector jefe Elvis Cisneros, quien brindó la información durante una conferencia de prensa referente a capturas de las últimas horas por casos relacionados a los atentados contra policías.

 

Los dos oficiales de la PNC, quienes resultaron lesionados de gravedad y que ahora ya gozan de una condición de salud estable, llegaron al lugar tras recibir un aviso sobre un cuerpo sin vida abandonado en el automóvil en la cancha de Montes de San Bartolo III.

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PNC Spokesman announcing details of car bombing that injured two PNC officers. Source: https://twitter.com/PNC_SV/status/1123296519694749698

 

Key Information: Beatriz Calderon, Jonatan Funes, and Samuel Doño, “Explota vehículo en Soyapango: hay dos policías lesionados.” La Prensa Grafica. 29 April 2019, https://www.laprensagrafica.com/elsalvador/Explota-vehiculo-en-Soyapango-hay-dos-policias-lesionados-20190429-0114.html:

Dos agentes de la Policía Nacional Civil (PNC) sufrieron lesiones por la explosión de un vehículo en la colonia Montes de San Bartolo en el municipio de Soyapango.

 

Uno de los policías tiene lesiones en el brazo y el otro en el rostro, pero se encuentran estables y fuera de peligro en un hospital.

 

Una fuente policial informó que a eso de las 6:20 de la mañana de este lunes recibieron una llamada alertando de un cadáver abandonado en un vehículo, por lo que policías llegaron al lugar. Cuando se aproximaron, el carro explotó, a eso de las 6:40 a.m.…

 

La PNC cree que los explosivos fueron activados de manera remota, pero continúan investigando. Sospechan que el vehículo fue llevado al lugar en la madrugada y los principales sospechosos son los miembros de pandilla. “Aquí delinque la pandilla MS”, manifestó la fuente policial.

Key Information: Ricardo Flores, “Agencia de explosivos de EUA investiga ataque a PNC con explosivo en vehículo.” La Prensa Grafica. 30 April 2019, https://www.laprensagrafica.com/elsalvador/Agencia-de-explosivos-de-EUA-investiga-ataque-a-PNC-con-explosivo-en-vehiculo-20190429-0489.html:

El Departamento de Alcohol, Tabaco, Armas de Fuego y Explosivos (ATF, por sus siglas en inglés), es la agencia federal de seguridad de Estados Unidos que está colaborando con las autoridades salvadoreñas en la investigación del estallido, ayer por la mañana, de un vehículo en la cancha de la urbanización Montes de San Bartolo III, de Soyapango, que dejó a dos policías lesionados.

El director fiscal Anticorrupción y Contra la Impunidad, German Arriaza, confirmó la asistencia estadounidense en el caso: “Ha habido colaboración de ATF para determinar qué provocó la explosión. Hemos ordenado que se realicen las experticias para determinar qué tipo de explosivo pudiera haberse utilizado. La Policía está realizando trabajo para identificar a los hechores”, dijo…

 

El ataque ocurre en medio de una nueva escala de violencia de las pandillas que tiene como blanco a los miembros de seguridad pública, principalmente a policías y militares.

 

El fin de semana pasado, cuatro militares y dos policías fueron asesinados en distintos lugares del país. En lo que va del año, las cifras oficiales consignan que suman 16 miembros de la PNC asesinados y 10 miembros de la Fuerza Armada de El Salvador…

 

El uso de explosivos para atacar a policías no es nuevo en el país. En 2015, 14 puestos policiales fueron atacados con granadas. Además, entre 2015 y 2018 fueron colocados seis explosivos en vehículos y en lugares públicos. Por esos hechos, un juzgado especializado condenó a una banda a penas de hasta 30 años de cárcel por suministrar los explosivos a miembros del Barrio 18.

Third Generation Gang Analysis

 

At approximately 0620 hours, Monday morning, 29 April 2019, police (Policía Nacional Civil–PNC) received a report of a dead body in an abandoned vehicle in Colonia Montes de San Bartolo, Soyapanga. When officers responded to investigate the reported body—which turned out to be a mannequin wrapped in blankets—the car exploded (at approximately 0640 hours). The explosion is believed to have been caused by an improvised explosive device (artefacto explosivo impovisado) rather than a sophisticated large vehicle bomb—known as a Vehicle-borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED). The officers were transported to hospital for treatment.[1] The incident comes in the midst of violent confrontation between the police and the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang.[2]

 

The attack occurred after a violent weekend where four soldiers and two police officers were killed in various parts of El Salvador.[3]  Salvadoran officials have enlisted the support of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)—due to their advanced forensics capabilities—to complete the post-incident investigation.[4] Salvadoran officials suspect the device was command detonated from a distance.[5] This would mean that the perpetrators were required to maintain line-of-sight to the ambush scene for the timing of their attack. For actual detonation purposes, however, a cellular phone, not requiring line-of-sight, may have been utilized, as in an earlier gang-linked incident in Guatemala in March 2016 targeting a municipal bus.[6]

 

The ‘bait and attack’ tactic is reminiscent of the July 2010 Ciudad Juárez, Mexico car bomb/ambush where gangsters “lured federal officers and paramedics to the site of a car bomb by dressing a bound, wounded man in a police uniform and calling in a false report of an officer shot.... The gang then exploded a car holding as much as 22 pounds (10 kilograms) of explosives, killing the decoy, a rescue worker and a federal officer.”[7] Of concern is that such ‘bait and attack’ tactics are indicative of more sophisticated cartel organizations—rather than less advanced street and prison gangs—suggesting that the interactions of these groups is resulting in tactical innovations being transmitted from the cartels over to the gangs. Other recent simple ‘car bomb’ use includes the use of a ‘threat vehicle’ by huachicoleros (fuel thieves) in Salamanca, Guanajuato, Mexico in January 2019.[8]  

 

This is not the first time Salvadoran gang members—pandilleros or mareros—have utilized simple car bombs. Prior examples include a 28 August 2015 incident by Pandilla 18 Revolucionarios and a September 2015 incident in front of the Ministry of Property in San Salvador where explosive devices inside a vehicle were detonated.[9][10] In addition, in February 2018, two municipal police were injured when a car exploded in San Tecla, El Salvador.[11]

 

The timing of this incident raises suspicion that street gangs, including MS-13, may be targeting police as a negotiation strategy in advance of the inauguration of a new Salvadoran president in June.[12] This event demonstrates that improvised explosive devices—including simple car bombs (that is, IEDs secreted in vehicles and then detonated)—are currently among the TTPs (tactics, techniques, and procedures) utilized by gangs (maras and pandillas) in El Salvador.

 

Sources

 

Associated Press, “MS-13 Gang Put Fake Body in Car, Then Detonated a Bomb When Police Came.” New York Times. 29 April 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/29/world/americas/el-salvador-ms-13-gang.html.

 

Beatriz Calderon, Jonatan Funes, and Samuel Doño, “Explota vehículo en Soyapango: hay dos policías lesionados.” La Prensa Grafica. 29 April 2019, https://www.laprensagrafica.com/elsalvador/Explota-vehiculo-en-Soyapango-hay-dos-policias-lesionados-20190429-0114.html.

 

“Dos policías lesionados en la explosión de un carro abandonado en Soyapango.” ElSalvador.com. 29 April 2019, https://www.elsalvador.com/fotogalerias/noticias-fotogalerias/588531/dos-policias-lesionados-en-la-explosion-de-un-carro-abandonado-en-soyapango/.

 

Ricardo Flores, “Agencia de explosivos de EUA investiga ataque a PNC con explosivo en vehículo.” La Prensa Grafica. 30 April 2019, https://www.laprensagrafica.com/elsalvador/Agencia-de-explosivos-de-EUA-investiga-ataque-a-PNC-con-explosivo-en-vehiculo-20190429-0489.html.

 

David Marroquín,“ INFOGRAFÍA: La trampa que pandilleros tendieron a la Policía en un coche bomba.” ElSalvador.com. 29 April 2019, https://www.elsalvador.com/noticias/nacional/588746/infografia-la-trampa-que-pandilleros-tendieron-a-la-policia-en-un-coche-bomba/.

 

“Pandilleros hacen explotar un Coche Bomba en Soyapango; hay dos PNC heridos.” Diario La Huella. 29 April 2019, https://diariolahuella.com/pandilleros-hacen-explotar-un-coche-bomba-en-soyapango-hay-dos-pnc-heridos/.

 

TERRORISMO EN EL SALVADOR: Explosivo utilizado en Soyapango, donde dos policías resultaron lesionados, fue un «artefacto improvisado»,” Chronio. 30 April 2019, http://cronio.sv/nacionales/terrorismo-explosivo-utilizado-en-soyapango-donde-dos-policias-resultaron-lesionados-fue-un-artefacto-improvisado/.

 

End Notes

 

[1] Beatriz Calderon, Jonatan Funes, and Samuel Doño, “Explota vehículo en Soyapango: hay dos policías lesionados.” La Prensa Grafica. 29 April 2019, https://www.laprensagrafica.com/elsalvador/Explota-vehiculo-en-Soyapango-hay-dos-policias-lesionados-20190429-0114.html.

 

[2] Ibid and Associated Press, “MS-13 Gang Put Fake Body in Car, Then Detonated a Bomb When Police Came.” New York Times. 29 April 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/29/world/americas/el-salvador-ms-13-gang.html.

 

[3] This weekend sequence brought the number of PNC members killed to 16 and the number of armed forces killed to 10 to date, “El fin de semana pasado, cuatro militares y dos policías fueron asesinados en distintos lugares del país. En lo que va del año, las cifras oficiales consignan que suman 16 miembros de la PNC asesinados y 10 miembros de la Fuerza Armada de El Salvador. See Ricardo Flores, “Agencia de explosivos de EUA investiga ataque a PNC con explosivo en vehículo.” La Prensa Grafica. 30 April 2019, https://www.laprensagrafica.com/elsalvador/Agencia-de-explosivos-de-EUA-investiga-ataque-a-PNC-con-explosivo-en-vehiculo-20190429-0489.html.

 

[4] Ibid.

 

[5] Ibid. 

 

[6] Though in this specific ‘early warning’ incident Barrio 18 (18 Street) was involved rather than MS-13. Steven Dudley, “A Bomb Explodes, a Gang Purges Its Own, Guatemala Scratches Its Head.” Insight Crime. 19 August 2016, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/gang-bomb-leaves-guatemala-confused/.

 

[7] See John P. Sullivan, “Explosive Escalation? Reflections on the Car Bombing in Ciudad Juarez.” Small Wars Journal. 21 July 2010, http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/explosive-escalation.

 

[8] John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Strategic Note No. 27: Confronting the State—Explosive Artifacts, Threats, Huachicoleros, and Cartel Competition in Guanajuato, MX.” Small Wars Journal. 14 March 2019, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-strategic-note-no-27-confronting-state-explosive-artifacts-threats.

 

[9] “No es la primer vez que los pandilleros utilizan el método de Coche Bomba para realizar atentados, el 28 de agosto del año 2015, tras la ruptura de la llamada tregua del Gobierno con las Pandillas, dos integrantes de la “Pandilla 18 Revolucionarios” participaron en la colocación de explosivos dentro de un vehículo, en contra del centro de Gobierno. También en septiembre de ese mismo año explotaron uno explosivos colocados al interior de un automóvil en la Urbanización Buenos Aires, en San Salvador, frente al Ministerio de Hacienda.” “Pandilleros hacen explotar un Coche Bomba en Soyapango; hay dos PNC heridos.” Diario La Huella. 29 April 2019, https://diariolahuella.com/pandilleros-hacen-explotar-un-coche-bomba-en-soyapango-hay-dos-pnc-heridos/.

 

[10] For additional discussion of the 2015 car bomb sequence, see Arron Daugherty, “The Mystery Behind El Salvador’s IEDs.” InSight Crime. 9 October 2015, https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/the-mystery-behind-el-salvador-ieds/.

 

[11] “Police investigators process a scene where a car bomb exploded, casing injury to two municipality police officers according to El Salvador National Police, in Santa Tecla.” Reuters. 11 February 2018, http://news.trust.org/item/20180211194315-q6vh1 and “Coche bomba tenía dos artefactos artesanales y un sistema de activación electrónico: PNC.” Agencia de Prensa Salvadoreña (APS). 11 February 2018, https://aps.com.sv/coche-bomba-tenia-dos-artefactos-artesanales-y-un-sistema-de-activacion-electronico-pnc/.

 

[12] Associated Press, “El Salvador president says gangs are trying to force his successor to negotiate.” Independent.ie. 2 May 2019, https://www.independent.ie/world-news/el-salvador-president-says-gangs-are-trying-to-force-his-successor-to-negotiate-38068357.html.

 

Key Words: Artefactos explosivos impovisados, Car Bomb, Carro Bomba, Coche Bomba, Improvised Explosive Device (IED)

 

Additional Reading

 

John P. Sullivan, “Explosive Escalation? Reflections on the Car Bombing in Ciudad Juarez.” Small Wars Journal. 21 July 2010.

 

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, Cartel Car Bombings in Mexico. Carlisle Barracks: Letort Papers, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College. August 2013.

 

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, Studies in Gangs and Cartels. London: Routledge, 2013.

 

 

Categories: El Centro

About the Author(s)

John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He retired as a lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He is also an adjunct researcher at the Vortex Foundation in Bogotá, Colombia; a member of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Global Observatory of Transnational Criminal Networks; a senior research fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies on Terrorism (CAST); a Global Fellow at Stratfor (2018); and an instructor at the Safe Communities Institute at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. He is co-editor of Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities (Xlibris, 2019), Countering Terrorism and WMD: Creating a Global Counter-Terrorism Network (Routledge, 2006) and Global Biosecurity: Threats and Responses (Routledge, 2010) and co-author of Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency: A Small Wars Journal-El Centro Anthology (iUniverse, 2011), Studies in Gangs and Cartels (Routledge, 2013), and The Rise of The Narcostate (Mafia States) (Xlibris, 2018). He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) in Barcelona. His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” His current research focus is the impact of transnational organized crime on sovereignty in Mexico and other countries.

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is an Adjunct Research Professor, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College and Adjunct Faculty, Division of Politics and Economics, Claremont Graduate University. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Distinguished Visiting Professor and Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College; Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico, VA; Staff Member (Consultant), Counter-OPFOR Program, National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center-West; and Adjunct Faculty, National Security Studies M.A. Program and Political Science Department, California State University, San Bernardino, CA. Dr. Bunker has hundreds of publications including Studies in Gangs and Cartels, with John Sullivan (Routledge, 2013),  Red Teams and Counterterrorism Training, with Stephen Sloan (University of Oklahoma, 2011), and edited works, including Global Criminal and Sovereign Free Economies and the Demise of the Western Democracies: Dark Renaissance (Routledge, 2014), co-edited with Pamela Ligouri Bunker; Criminal Insurgencies in Mexico and the Americas: The Gangs and Cartels Wage War (Routledge, 2012); Narcos Over the Border: Gangs, Cartels and Mercenaries (Routledge, 2011); Criminal-States and Criminal-Soldiers (Routledge, 2008); Networks, Terrorism and Global Insurgency (Routledge, 2005); and Non-State Threats and Future Wars (Routledge, 2002).