Small Wars Journal

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 29: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Attacks Honduran Prison Guards with Grenades and Assault Rifles

Fri, 07/31/2020 - 6:40pm

Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 29:  Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Attacks Honduran Prison Guards with Grenades and Assault Rifles

John P. Sullivan, Robert J. Bunker, and Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht

On Monday, 20 July 2020, suspected members of Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) attacked military police guards at a prison—la Peniteciaría Nacional de Támara—north of Tegucigalpa, according to the Instituto Nacional Penitenciaro (INP – National Penitentiary Institute).  The attack, by prison inmates, involved firearms (assault rifles and pistols, as well as grenades).  One sergeant received firearms injuries. 

AK47 y Pistols

Assault Rifles (AK-47s) and Pistols Recovered.  Source: INP (Instituto Nacional Penitenciario-Honduras)

Key Information: “Mara Salvatrucha atacó con granadas y armas automáticas a militares en cárcel.” La Prensa (Honduras). 20 July 2020, https://www.laprensa.hn/sucesos/1395405-410/carcel-mara-salvatrucha-granadas-armas-:

Supeuesto miembros de la pandilla Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) presos atacaron este lunes [20 July 2020] con armas automáticas y granadas a SS-13 militares que custodian la Peniteciaría Nacional de Támara, al norte de la capital hondureña, donde un soldado resultó herido, informó una fuente official.[1]

Key Information: “Un sargento herido dejó tiroteo en módulos de la Penitenciaría de Támara.” El Heraldo(Honduras). 20 July 2020, https://www-elheraldo-hn.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.elheraldo.hn/sucesos/1395302-466/tamara-herido-sargento-inp-honduras-carceles-violencia?amp=1&usqp=mq331AQIKAGwASDYAQE=&amp_js_v=0.1:

El tiroteo, que sucedió a eso de las 7:15 de la mañana y desplegó un fuerte contingente policial y militar, ocurrió cuando los reos atacaron a balazos a los miembros de seguridad que resguardan los diferentes módulos.

'Los disparos ocurrieron en los módulos de procesados 1 y 2 y en el módulo número 2 de los sentenciados', explicó Aguilar, Además, detalló que únicamente un sargento resultó con dos heridas provocadas por arma de fuego.[2]

Key Information: José Rodas, “Fusiles AK-47, drogas y hasta lanzagranadas decomisan a reos dentro de cárcel de Támara, ¡mira dónde lo escondían todo!” Tu nota. 22 July 2020, https://www.tunota.com/fusiles-ak-47-drogas-y-hasta-lanzagranadas-decomisan-a-reos-dentro-de-carcel-de-tamara-mira-donde-lo-escondian-todo:

Autoridades hondureñas decomisaron este miércoles fusiles AK-47granadas, lanzagranadas y drogas en la Penitenciaría Nacional, donde reos atacaron el lunes a los guardias de la prisión capitalina, informó el organismo a cargo de las cárceles.

Miembros de diferentes unidades policiales y militares ingresaron a la Penitenciaría Nacional, localizada en Támara, 20 km al norte de la capital, con escáneres y detectores de metales para una inspección, indicó el Instituto Nacional Penitenciario (INP) en un comunicado.

Seis fusiles A-47, tres cargadores para fusiles AK-47, cinco pistolas automáticas, dos granadas de fragmentación, un lanzagranadas de fabricación casera y al menos 30 libras de marihuana fueron encontradas" durante la inspección, detalló.[3]

Grenades

Explosives (Grenades) Recovered After Attack. Source: INP (Instituto Nacional Penitenciario-Honduras)

Third Generation Gang Analysis

Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) is active throughout the Northern Triangle of Central America, including Honduras. At approximately 0715 hours (7:15 AM) on 20 July 2020, suspected MS-13 affiliates attacked the Peniteciaría Nacional de Támara prison, specifically targeting three guard towers.  The guard towers were staffed by members of the Policía Militar de Orden Público (PMOP – Public Order Military Police).  The attack lasted approximately 45 minutes and one sergeant was wounded.[4]  No one was killed in the attack.[5]  The attackers used firearms and grenades in their assault.  Authorities recovered 6 AK-47 rifles, 3 AK-47 rifle magazines, 5 [semi] automatic pistols, 2 fragmentation grenades, and 1 improvised grenade launcher.[6]  In addition to these weapons, authorities discovered improvised knives, cellular phones, electric power and lighting, as well as a wireless network (red inalámbrica de Internet) in the tunnel.[7]

This recent attack highlights the embrace of paramilitary operations by MS-13 in their confrontation with the state in Honduras.[8] The incident follows the February 2020 attack in El Progreso, Honduras by twenty suspected MS-13 gang members which freed Alexander Mendoza, (aka “El Porky”)—a senior member of the gang—as he entered a courthouse for a trial hearing. The gang members, wearing Honduran security forces uniforms and carrying automatic weapons, rescued Mendoza, killing 3 police officers in the process.[9]  While the circumstances behind the Támara prison attack were initially unclear, subsequent information released by the Honduran authorities link it to an underground tunnel that had been constructed by the prison inmates as part of a large scale escape plan. Whether that promoted the intense attack—which resulted in at least 40 bullet holes in one of the guard towers alone—was the threat of the discovery of the tunnel during a routine contraband inspection or some other event remains unclear.[10]  

Sources

José Rodas, “Fusiles AK-47, drogas y hasta lanzagranadas decomisan a reos dentro de cárcel de Támara, ¡mira dónde lo escondían todo!” Tu nota. 22 July 2020, https://www.tunota.com/fusiles-ak-47-drogas-y-hasta-lanzagranadas-decomisan-a-reos-dentro-de-carcel-de-tamara-mira-donde-lo-escondian-todo

“Mara Salvatrucha atacó con granadas y armas automáticas a militares en cárcel.” La Prensa (Honduras). 20 July 2020, https://www.laprensa.hn/sucesos/1395405-410/carcel-mara-salvatrucha-granadas-armas-.

“No hay muertos luego del violento enfrenamiento en cárcel de Támara, informa INP.” La Prensa (Honduras). 20 July 2020, https://www.laprensa.hn/sucesos/1395326-410/tiroteo-penitenciaria-nacional-tamara-carcel-instituto-nacional-penitenciario-honduras-reos.

“Un sargento herido dejó tiroteo en módulos de la Penitenciaría de Támara.” El Heraldo (Honduras). 20 July 2020, https://www-elheraldo-hn.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.elheraldo.hn/sucesos/1395302-466/tamara-herido-sargento-inp-honduras-carceles-violencia?amp=1&usqp=mq331AQIKAGwASDYAQE=&amp_js_v=0.1

End Notes

[1] In English, the excerpted text reads: “Prisoners, suspected members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang (MS-13) attacked the military guarding the Támara National Penitentiary, north of the Honduran capital, this Monday [20 July 2020] with automatic weapons and grenades, a soldier was wounded, an official source reported.”

[2] In English, the excerpted text reads: “The shooting, which took place at around 7:15 a.m. and resulted in the deployment of a strong police and military contingent, occurred when the inmates shot at members of the security contingent guarding the different modules.”… “The shots occurred in modules of defendants 1 and 2 and in module number 2 of those sentenced,” Aguilar explained, in addition, he explained that only one sergeant received two firearms injuries.”

[3] In English, the excerpted text reads: “Honduran authorities seized AK-47 rifles, grenades, grenade launchers and drugs on Wednesday at the National Penitentiary, where inmates attacked the prison guards on Monday, the agency in charge of the jails reported.”… “Members of different police and military units entered the National Penitentiary, located in Támara, 20 km north of the capital, with scanners and metal detectors for inspection, the National Penitentiary Institute (INP) said in a statement.”… “Six A-47 rifles, three AK-47 rifle magazines, five automatic pistols, two fragmentation grenades, a home-made grenade launcher and at least 30 pounds of marijuana were found during the inspection, he said.”

[4] Mara Salvatrucha atacó con granadas y armas automáticas a militares en cárcel.” La Prensa (Honduras). 20 July 2020, https://www.laprensa.hn/sucesos/1395405-410/carcel-mara-salvatrucha-granadas-armas- and Un sargento herido dejó tiroteo en módulos de la Penitenciaría de Támara.” El Heraldo (Honduras). 20 July 2020, https://www-elheraldo-hn.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.elheraldo.hn/sucesos/1395302-466/tamara-herido-sargento-inp-honduras-carceles-violencia?amp=1&usqp=mq331AQIKAGwASDYAQE=&amp_js_v=0.1.

[5] “No hay muertos luego del violento enfrenamiento en cárcel de Támara, informa INP.” La Prensa (Honduras). 20 July 2020, https://www.laprensa.hn/sucesos/1395326-410/tiroteo-penitenciaria-nacional-tamara-carcel-instituto-nacional-penitenciario-honduras-reos.

[6] José Rodas, “Fusiles AK-47, drogas y hasta lanzagranadas decomisan a reos dentro de cárcel de Támara, ¡mira dónde lo escondían todo!” Tu nota. 22 July 2020, https://www.tunota.com/fusiles-ak-47-drogas-y-hasta-lanzagranadas-decomisan-a-reos-dentro-de-carcel-de-tamara-mira-donde-lo-escondian-todo.

[7] “Armas y tecnología hallen durante nuevas requisas en cárcel de Támara.” El Heraldo (Honduras). 24 July 2020, https://www.elheraldo.hn/sucesos/1396268-466/tamara-carcel-requisa-honduras-reos-armas

[8] See Douglas Farah and Kathyrn, “The Evolution of MS 13 in El Salvador and Honduras.” PRISM: The Journal of Complex Operations. Vol. 7, No 1, 14 September 2017, https://cco.ndu.edu/News/Article/1298326/the-evolution-of-ms-13-in-el-salvador-and-honduras/.

[9] Gustavo Palencia, “Three Honduran policemen killed in shootout to free jailed MS-13 gang leader.” Reuters. 13 February 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-honduras-crime/three-honduran-policemen-killed-in-shootout-to-free-jailed-ms-13-gang-leader-idUSKBN208059 and “Honduras violence: Gunmen storm court building to free MS-13 leader.” BBC News. 14 February 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-51501103.

[10] Penitenciaría Nacional de Támara notices for 22 July 2020. Instituto Nacional Penitenciario-Honduras. Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/INPHN/ and Así es el tunnel que reos pensaban usar para escapar de Támara.” El Heraldo (Honduras). 22 July 2020, https://www.elheraldo.hn/fotogalerias/1395905-468/tamara-carcel-tunel-reos-fuga-masiva.

For Additional Reading

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker, Eds. Strategic Notes on Third Generation Gangs. Bloomington: XLibris, 2020.

Robert J. Bunker and John P. Sullivan, “Third Generation Gangs Strategic Note No. 13: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) Command and Control (C2) Geographic Variations.” Small Wars Journal. 29 January 2019.

Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht, “Gangs in El Salvador:  A New Type of Insurgency?Small Wars Journal. 27 September 2017.

About the Author(s)

Dr. John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism, and intelligence. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018 for his contributions to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. 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). His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” He can be reached at jpsullivan@smallwarsjournal.com.

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is Director of Research and Analysis, C/O Futures, LLC, and an adjunct research professor, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College. 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 Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College and Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico. He has well over 500 publications—including about 40 books as co-author, editor, and co-editor—and can be reached at docbunker@smallwarsjournal.com .   

Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht, works as Professor at the College of Advanced Strategic Studies, the Highest Post Graduate School of El Salvador’s Armed Forces. Previously he served 16 years in the area of ​​public security, holding various important positions within the General Inspectorate of the National Civilian Police of El Salvador. Academically he is a political scientist and holds two master degrees: in Public Administration and Human Rights and Education for Peace (University of El Salvador). Currently he is a candidate for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. Prof. Gómez Hecht has a teaching experience that spans 19 years at graduate and post graduate level at various El Salvadoran Universities, National Public Security Academy and most Officer Schools of the Armed Forces. He is an Academic researcher accredited by the Council for Science and Technology of El Salvador and has published works in national and international specialized journals in the United States, Spain, Colombia and Nicaragua. He has also lectured on defense and security issues at the national level and in the United States, Mexico, Morocco, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama.