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Worldwide Travel Alert For U.S. Citizens

SF Sniper Prepares for Operation

The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats. Current information suggests that ISIL (aka Da’esh), al-Qa’ida, Boko Haram, and other terrorist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks in multiple regions.  These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics, using conventional and non-conventional weapons and targeting both official and private interests.  This Travel Alert expires on February 24, 2016.

Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of ISIL/Da’esh return from Syria and Iraq.  Additionally, there is a continuing threat from unaffiliated persons planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations but conducted on an individual basis.  Extremists have targeted large sporting events, theatres, open markets, and aviation services.  In the past year, there have been multiple attacks in France, Nigeria, Denmark, Turkey, and Mali.  ISIL/Da’esh has claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Russian airliner in Egypt.

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U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation.  Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowded places.  Exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals or events.  U.S. citizens should monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.  Persons with specific safety concerns should contact local law enforcement authorities who are responsible for the safety and security of all visitors to their host country.  U.S. citizens should:

  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.  Monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.
  • Be prepared for additional security screening and unexpected disruptions.
  • Stay in touch with your family members and ensure they know how to reach you in the event of an emergency.
  • Register in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

Foreign governments have taken action to guard against terrorist attacks, and some have made official declarations regarding heightened threat conditions.  Authorities continue to conduct raids and disrupt terror plots.  We continue to work closely with our allies on the threat from international terrorism.  Information is routinely shared between the United States and our key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats.

For further information:

Israel to build sophisticated fencing system along border with Jordan

venezuela-protests-march-13

Israel’s cabinet has approved the construction of a new high-tech fencing along Israel’s border with Jordan, with the aim of making it more difficult for Islamist terrorists such as members of ISIS from entering the country. Israel has built sophisticated fencing – indeed, complex defensive systems — along its borders with Lebanon, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Sinai. A similar system has been built along parts of Israel’s border with Syria. The Israeli security services are worried that a route through Jordan, the border with which is not as tightly secured as Israel’s borders with its other neighbors, may be an entryway for its enemies.

Israel’s cabinet has approved the construction of a new high-tech fencing along Israel’s border with Jordan, with the aim of making it more difficult for Islamist terrorists such as members of ISIS from entering the country.

The barrier is set to span nineteen miles in the south of the country, near the Red Sea. In addition to keeping out Islamist terrorists, the barrier is also aimed at preventing African migrants from entering Israel through Jordan, after travelling across the Red Sea.

Israel has completed a high-tech fence along the Israel-Egypt border in 2013, and the Independent reports that The Israeli security services are worried that a route through Jordan, which is not as tightly secured as Israel’s borders with its other neighbors, may be an entryway for its enemies.

During a meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the extension of the Jordanian border fence “important,” and said it is a “very important step” in Israel’s national security.

He added that it will join the fence built along the Sinai and Golan Heights borders, which he said have been important in keeping out illegal migrants and “the various terrorist movements.”

Netanyahu said the fence was not an act of aggression or intimidation toward Jordan, stressing that the fence will be constructed “without in any way harming the sovereignty or national interests of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.”

Netanyahu noted that the fence would also protect the Timna airport which is scheduled to open next year, and which is billed as an alternative “second airport” which could be used in case the Ben-Gurion airport near Tel Aviv comes under attack.

Israel has built sophisticated fencing – indeed, complex defensive systems — along its borders with Lebanon, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and Sinai. A similar system has been built along parts of Israel’s border with Syria.

Islamophobia Works in the Islamic State’s Favor

Islamic State fighters in Iraq. Photo:Medyan Dairieh / VICE News

Four days after the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris, my team and I asked the audience of my BBC Asian Network phone-in show a question, as we do every day. This time, it was: “Will the Paris attacks make life more difficult for British Muslims?”

It had been less than a week since the terrorists of Daesh, or the so-called Islamic State, had gone on their murderous rampage. So, to some, it may have seemed insensitive to be asking so soon how British Muslims were feeling when French hearts from all backgrounds were broken and a manhunt to catch the surviving perpetrators was still ongoing.

Our reasoning was that what IS wanted was for discord to fester—for Islamophobia in the West to become deeply embedded, with the subsequent hatred and mistrust leading to more eager recruits being seduced into their death cult. So it was important for us to gauge whether or not they were succeeding in their aim. We also wanted to discover what it felt like on the ground for the average law-abiding, tax-paying, house-tending, car-driving, life-living British Muslim—or indeed British Asian, being that the average Islamophobe isn’t going to ask a potential victim to fill in a questionnaire clarifying their religious viewpoint before attacking them.

The calls, emails, and texts largely portrayed a depressing picture. I remember a British Muslim caller talking about how his sister had told their mother to not go to the bank that morning because “white people may attack you.” And this was not an isolated case of fear.

It is against this backdrop that The Sun newspaper printed its recent front page headline, “1 in 5 Brit Muslims have sympathy for Jihadis”—a conclusion the journalist responsible made after seeing the results of a poll that never mentioned the word jihadis. The survey’s 1,003 respondents were asked if they had any sympathy for young British Muslims who leave the UK to join fighters in Syria. Did that include members of the British Kurdish community going to Syria to fight IS, or joining the Free Syrian Army who are battling Assad and IS?

On the Sunday night before the print copy of the paper hit the newsstands, some had already seen the front page online and tweeted about how irresponsible and inflammatory they felt it was. A British Muslim member of the public, who also happens to follows me on Twitter, tweeted “All 5 Muslims in our household despise extremists. Either me or @TheSun is lying. Only one of us lies habitually.”

READ: I Conducted the Sun’s ‘1 in 5 Muslims’ Poll and Was Shocked By How It Was Used

On Monday morning as people awoke to this headline, my debate show team knew that our listeners would want to discuss the impact it would have. We asked “Is today’s Sunheadline a wake up call to British Muslims or irresponsible journalism?” Many sided with the latter part of the question, as did others in the media. That same day there were articles in other newspapers questioning the methodology and the very basic journalistic shortcomings of the piece, and it was beginning to look like a blatant piece of hate-mongering to some of my listeners.

The Sun replied to the criticism by stating that they had “published the poll’s findings clearly and accurately, including the questions in full.” A non-Muslim emailer called Karamjeet wrote, “The reporting in The Sun certainly doesn’t surprise me, but the way it is reported is totally irresponsible and inflammatory.” Another listener texted, “The Sun is very conniving… they were asking very leading questions, the answers of which could be easily manipulated.” With more than a hint of frustration in her tone, another listener said, “Like those three monkeys, the media by and large chooses to stay blind, deaf, and dumb to those voices who speak out against extremists and terrorists. What do they want? That I renounce my faith? That I take up non-Islamic practices? Will that then assuage them?”

The fact that British Muslim callers have described how their work colleagues no longer treat them with the courtesy they once experienced, or that they are fearful for the futures of their kids, should act as a wake-up call to politicians and journalists that ill-conceived headlines have repercussions for people who just wish to practice their faith and go about their business. We all have a responsibility to confront hatred and bigotry wherever it exists, and at the very least do nothing to unnecessarily exacerbate the situation.

You only have to see the ridicule and backlash that The Sun has faced this week to realize that we are a tolerant nation. But for some of my British Muslim listeners, the fear is that those headlines will be read by some as gospel, tainting the way some of their fellow Brits view them. Instead, we must all unite and show solidarity, for that will only infuriate IS and help to quell the number of Europeans making the journey to Syria to join the terrorists.

Mobster’s Son Got Everyone to Repeat His Line About the Mafia Declaring War on ISIS

Everybody is talking about how Giovanni Gambino—son of noted mobster Francesco Gambino—declared that the Sicilian mafia is ready to go to war with the Islamic State.

“Mafia heir warns ISIS to stay away from New York—but slams ‘Hollywood gangsters’ De Niro and Pacino for failing to ‘stand up’ to the terrorists” is how the ever-subtle Daily Mailput it. The Russian government–funded outlet RT, in an early version of the story that got more than 56,000 Facebook likes, quoted Gambino at length: “The world is dangerous today, but people living in New York neighborhoods with Sicilian connections should feel safe,” he said. “We make sure our friends and families are protected from extremists and terrorists, especially the brutal, psychopathic organization that calls itself the Islamic State.”

Strong words. Viral words, even. But where’d they come from? RT cites (but doesn’t link to) a Reuters piece that supposedly in turn quotes an NBC News interview. But that Reuters article is actually just a November 19 press release, and the video embedded in it is a 2012 interview Gambino did to promote his book Prince of Omerta. To make matters more muddled, he was actually speaking to the hosts of Good Company, a local Cleveland talk show, and the conversation in the YouTube clip never touches on the Islamic State. (The YouTube clip is apparently mislabeled.) If Gambino appeared on NBC News recently, we couldn’t find that video.

So where did those quotes in the press release that spread far and wide come from? To clear things up, VICE called Joseph Savoy, a friend of Gambino’s who was listed as the contact on the press release. He wasn’t sure how that old 2012 video clip got involved, but confirmed that the quotes “came from Giovanni directly” and “that’s how he feels.”

Attribution issues aside, Gambino seems to be enjoying the attention. Even if that NBC News interview referenced in the first line of the press release never happened, his quotes were picked up by media outlets all over the world, to the point where he’s now being invited to expound upon his views. On Monday, Gambino was a guest on Michael Savage’s right-wing radio show, Savage Nation, where he said, “We have to stand up together to fight this monster [ISIS],” and claimed the Islamic State is scared to take action in the US because “the Sicilians would take action right away.”

Gambino also spread a version of the story—suddenly popular again in Republican circles—that American Muslims cheered after 9/11.

“When the Twin Towers went down you had everybody from Bay Ridge in Brooklyn celebrating in the streets,” Gambino told Savage. “I live in Bay Ridge, I saw it with my own eyes. The cops were protecting them.”

The press release says that Gambino “has fostered relationships with major movie producers, and he is on his way to building a highly respected career in Hollywood.”

Arrests Show Arrival of Barrio 18 Gang in Italy

Barrio 18 members arrested in Italy

Italian police arrested 15 suspected Barrio 18 members in Milan and other nearby cities in northern Italy, reported AFP.

The group — which was mostly comprised of Salvadorans but also reportedly included two Italians — is accused of crimes including extortion, drug trafficking, armed robbery and the attempted murder of a rival from the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang.

An Italian judge ordered the arrests following an investigation that began in January 2014 after a female Salvadoran accused one of the group’s members of sexually assaulting her, according to AFP.

SEE ALSO: Barrio 18 News and Profile

Central American gangs like Barrio 18 and MS13, which are known as “maras,” have been operating in Italy for years, particularly in northern immigrant communities, the report added.

InSight Crime Analysis

Over the last two years, security forces in both Italy and Spain have noted the expansion of the MS13 in Europe, and these latest report confirms they are not alone — their great rivals in Barrio 18 have also crossed the ocean.

The key question surrounding this development is whether the spread is a result of Central American migrants bringing mara street gang culture with them and setting up autonomous networks, or whether these new European based factions are running criminal operations with maras in Central America, suggesting the gangs have made the leap into transnational organizations.

Both gangs are also well established in parts of the United States and the US government has already designated the MS13 a transnational criminal organization, ranking them alongside criminal groups such as the Mexican cartels. However, despite evidence of cross-border collaboration in criminal activities, the decentralized nature and highly localized and territorial focus of the maras has always cast doubts on this classification.

There have also been reports of the Spanish maras coordinating with their counterparts in the Americas, but even if this level of cooperation were to expand, it is unlikely they would have the capacity to coordinate serious transatlantic criminal operations. If they were to seek to establish control over transnational activities such as drug trafficking in Europe, they also would likely encounter formidable opposition; in Spain drug trafficking and associated activities such as contract killing is largely controlled by offshoots of Colombian cartels, while Italy is the domain of powerful and well-connected mafias such as the ‘Ndrangheta.

Saudi Arabia Travel Warning

The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia.  There have been attacks on U.S. citizens and other Western expatriates within the past year and there continue to be reports of threats against U.S. citizens and other Westerners, as well as sites frequented by them. There have been multiple Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) directed and inspired attacks on mosques in the past four months. The latest, in the city of Abha on August 6, targeted members of the Saudi security forces. Furthermore, there are ongoing security concerns related to the crisis in Yemen, particularly border incursions and missile attacks across the Saudi-Yemeni border by forces within Yemen. This replaces the Travel Warning issued February 24, 2015.

U.S. government personnel and their families are restricted from traveling within 50 miles of the Yemeni border, and to the cities of Jizan and Najran, without permission from U.S. Embassy security officials. U.S. government personnel are also prohibited from traveling to the city of Qatif in the Eastern Province and its surrounding suburbs, including Awamiyah, and to the Al Hasa Governorate due to violent episodes that have occurred there in the past.

Security threats continue and terrorist groups, some affiliated with ISIL or Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), have targeted both Saudi and Western interests. Possible targets include housing compounds, hotels, restaurants, shopping areas, international schools, and other facilities where Westerners congregate, as well as Saudi government facilities and economic/commercial targets within the Kingdom. Consular services at the U.S. Embassy and Consulates were canceled March 15-19, 2015 due to heightened security concerns at our diplomatic facilities in the Kingdom.

Multiple attacks on mosques have occurred in Saudi Arabia over the past four months, resulting in significant loss of life. On May 22, 2015 a suicide bomber attacked a mosque in Al-Qadeeh in Al Qatif Governorate. On August 6, 2015 a mosque in the city of Abha was bombed. Most of the victims in that attack were members of the Saudi security forces. On May 29, 2015 a blast occurred at another mosque in the Al Anoud district of Dammam.

U.S. citizens have been the targets of recent attacks in the Kingdom. On January 30, 2015, two U.S. citizens were fired upon and injured in Hofuf in Al Hasa Governorate (Eastern Province). On October 14, 2014, two U.S. citizens were shot at a gas station in Riyadh. One was killed and the other wounded.

There have been several attacks on other nationalities during the past year. On November 29, 2014, a Canadian national was assaulted by a lone attacker with a cleaver at a shopping mall in Dhahran. On November 22, 2014, a Danish national was shot and injured in Riyadh by alleged ISIL supporters. On November 3, 2014, armed assailants attacked a community center in Dalwah in the Al Hasa Governorate, killing at least seven people and injuring several others. ISIL claimed responsibility for the attack.

The U.S. Embassy continues to receive reports of violence near the border with Yemen, including reports of small arms fire, bombs, artillery, and missile impacts. Media and independent sources report armed groups crossing the border into Saudi Arabia to conduct attacks on Saudi Arabian territory, primarily near western border cities, including Najran. The rugged border area dividing Yemen and Saudi Arabia remains porous in some areas and boundaries are not clearly defined. As the conflict continues in Yemen, violence can spill across the border at unpredictable times and locations. Forces hostile to Saudi Arabia within Yemen have weapons systems including mortars, artillery, and missiles that have been launched at targets in Saudi Arabia. On June 6, 2015, a missile was shot down 50 miles inside Saudi Arabia by Saudi forces that may have been targeting the King Khalid Air Base near Khamis Mushait. On August 26, 2015, a missile was fired across the border near Jizan and was intercepted by Saudi military. There is an increased possibility of strikes within 50 miles of the border, which could result in civilian deaths.

Visitors who choose to travel to these areas despite U.S. government concerns should be aware that, in addition to the above noted border attacks, terrorist and criminal elements may be operating there, including AQAP. U.S. citizens are strongly urged to read the Department of State Travel Warning for Yemen before traveling to areas near the Yemeni frontier.

U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia are strongly encouraged to select hotels or housing compounds with careful attention to security measures and location. U.S. citizens should be aware of their surroundings at all times and are advised to keep a low profile; vary times and routes of travel; exercise caution while driving, and entering or exiting vehicles; and ensure that travel documents and visas are current and valid.

If the security threat changes or specific threats affecting U.S. citizens are discovered, this information will be made available through the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) and U.S. Mission websites. Emergency Messages, Security Messages, and Messages for U.S. Citizens can be found on the U.S. Embassy Riyadh website.

For further information:

  • See the State Department’s travel website for the Worldwide Caution, Travel Warnings, Travel Alerts, and Saudi Arabia Country Specific Information.
  • Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
  • Contact the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia located at Abdullah Ibn Huthafah Al-Sahmi Street, Diplomatic Quarter, at +966 11 488 3800, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sunday through Thursday. After-hours emergency number for U.S. citizens is +966 11 488 3800.
  • Call 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or 1-202-501-4444 from other countries from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).
  • Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

U.S. Embassy Riyadh
Telephone: (966) (11) 488-3800
Fax: (966) (11) 483-0773
Emergency after-hours telephone: (966) (11) 488-3800

U.S. Consulate General Dhahran
Telephone: (966) (13) 330-3200
Fax: (966) (13) 330-0464
Emergency after-hours telephone: (966) (13) 330-3200

U.S. Consulate General Jeddah
Telephone: (966) (12) 667-0080
Fax: (966) (12) 669-3098
Emergency after-hours telephone: (966) (12) 667-0080

The Governor’s Son, the Knights Templar and the Impotence of Mexican Justice

Written by Jesus PerezThursday, 24 September 2015

Rodrigo Vallejo and 'La Tuta'

Rodrigo Vallejo and ‘La Tuta’

The weak sentence handed out to Rodrigo Vallejo, son of the former governor of the state of Michoacan who held office during the height of the reign of the Knights Templar, is yet another example of the impotence ofMexico‘s judicial system.

A federal judge sentenced Vallejo on September 11 on charges of concealment. The appearance of a video showing Vallejo conversing with Servando Gomez, alias “La Tuta,” former head of the region’s dominant criminal group the Knights Templar, had already brought about hisfather’s resignation. Despite the controversial conversation captured in the video, the sentence, according to Vallejo’s lawyer, might not lead to actual prison time.

Nevertheless, an analysis of the case helps to show the problems and challenges that Mexican judicial and law enforcement systems face when trying to unravel criminal-political networks that have co-opted state institutions in parts of the country.

One notable example is the difficulty that the Attorney General’s Office in Mexico (PGR by its Spanish initials) has had securing a solid accusation against Vallejo. According to some sources, the PGR has numerous videos of Knights Templar members with state and municipal officials, from which it should be possible to draw out a hypothetical organizational structure showing the links between Michoacan politicians and the Knights Templar. Within this network, Vallejo is assuredly not a minor figure, as evidenced by his contact with high-level members of the criminal organization. To strengthen the case against Vallejo, it would have been helpful if investigators had used La Tuta as a witnessto explain how the support of the ex-governor’s son came about.

Vallejo’s sentence only corresponds to the concealment charges brought against him for not supplying authorities with information about La Tuta’s whereabouts, that is to say, the sentence is not for his association with La Tuta as depicted in the video, but for a crime committed after the video was shot. And even then, the charges were brought only after Vallejo made a statement in front of the PGR. This shows that even under the most charitable analysis, Mexican authorities do not have a clear image of the level of criminal penetration into the institutions they are investigating, which is only further compounded by the PGR’s poor use of witnesses.

However, this type of shoddy investigation of sophisticated criminal structures has become a habit, as clearly shown in the year-old Ayotzinapa case, where 43 students disappeared in the tumultuous state of Guerrero.

For example, the Group of Independent Interdisciplinary Experts (GIEI), which was asked by Mexican authorities to help support the Ayotzinapa investigation, called for all related parts of the investigation to be brought before a single tribunal. The petition exemplified the various problems with Mexico‘s spider web of a legal system, such as the dispersion of related investigations among several tribunals, which contributes to the type of impunity seen in the Vallejo case.

Furthermore, although the PGR has detained hundreds of people who have shed light on the disappearance of the students, the prosecution of municipal representatives and members of Guerreros Unidos — the criminal group responsible for the disappearances — has been done exclusively from a municipal perspective. There has been a lack of focus on exposing the connections between those who have been accused in the case and networks that operate on a scale that goes far beyond the local level.

Faced with the failed strategies described above, Mexico can learn from the policies of other countries. The para-politics scandal of Colombia, which exposed links between politicians and the paramilitary group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), took place in a different context  but the case provides examples of tools that could be used to take on complex criminal structures like the Knights Templar. For example, there are lessons to be learned from the charges brought against those implicated in the para-politics scandal regarding how meetings between politicians and criminal groups can be used to infer certain roles and relationships. Such meetings make clear the shared criminal purpose of both parties and emphasize how important support from political circles can be for those criminal purposes.

More specifically, Colombia has made advances with respect to its judicial culture thatMexico could also implement, provided that the government shows an interest in adapting policies and the law to the actual challenges presented by organized crime. One option is to focus on investigating the larger contextual framework of organized crime. In this type of process, Colombian prosecutors prioritize certain aspects of the investigation that can shed light on the leadership structures of criminal organizations. In exposing the dynamics of organized crime and its relationships to distinct elements of the public sector, the prosecution’s efforts can also serve a larger educational purpose for society at large, something that is essential for a country in the midst of a security crisis like Mexico is experiencing. This type of contextual nuance gets lost with case-by-case investigations.

Along a similar line, the Public Ministry in Guatemala has a team of 120 analysts whose job is to study and compare multiple cases at once to see if there are any connections between them. Using this strategy, prosecutors can save effort and resources. Instead of prosecuting every case at an individual level, they end up taking down entire criminal networks, as they did in a historic case against gang members in 2014.

Returning to the Vallejo case, even though the general public has long assumed it to be true, it is difficult to understand how certain members of Michoacan’s political elites and the Knights Templar are linked — something most citizens see as self-evident — and to understand the ways they co-opted much of the state government without connecting the dots between seemingly isolated cases that share characteristics and a general pattern. In this sense, it would be natural to link the Vallejo case to that of Jesus Reyna, the former interim governor of Michoacan, who is still under investigation for his alleged involvement in the Knights Templar’s political network.

Whether the case ends here or if prosecutors bring new charges, a case like Vallejo’s reveals a larger lesson about what happens when the judicial system introduces a narrative that supplants official propaganda and the conspiracy theories that feed public opinion inMexico on matters regarding security. In other words, a narrative that emphasizes how the country’s legal institutions understand the nature of organized crime and what image they are sharing with the public. In this case, the focus has been narrow and the image the legal system has projected has been one of impotence.

Uruguay an Important Weapons Source for LatAm Criminals?

The Santa Bernardina Air Base

The Santa Bernardina Air Base

An ammunition heist from an Air Force base in Uruguay points to corruption in the country’s security forces, and further indicates that the generally peaceful country serves as a prominent source of weapons for South America criminal groups.

Investigations by Uruguayan authorities found that roughly 18,000 pieces of ammunition stolen from the Santa Bernardina Air Base ended up in the hands of criminal groups in Brazil; including Rio de Janeiro’s notorious Red Command (Comando Vermelho), reported El Pais.

The munitions theft — believed to have occurred sometime between November 2014 and February 2015 — was made public on June 21 by Congressional delegate Jaime Trobo.

According to investigations, the stolen ammunition weighed between 650 and 750 kilograms, and was removed from the base through its main gate using a truck. During the months the robbery is believed to have taken place, security cameras, motion sensors, and electric fences guarding the base’s weapons depot were not functioning.

Around 20 soldiers are under investigation. Mid-ranking soldiers and officers are also expected be implicated as investigations progress, reported El Pais. It is also possiblemore ammo was stolen than initially believed.

In 2007, the Uruguayan Air Force experienced a similar weapons theft, which resulted in four soldiers, three civilians, and one prison inmate being charged for stealing and organizing the weapons’ sales to Brazilian criminal groups.

InSight Crime Analysis

The theft of such a large amount of ammunition from an active Air Force base could not have occurred without complicity on the part of corrupt soldiers and officers.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Arms Trafficking

While such instances of corruption are less common among Uruguay’s security forces, they are not without precedent. In 2012, around 20 police officers came under investigation for removing over 200 firearms from police stockpiles and selling them to Brazilian criminal groups. More recently, in April, three policemen and a businessman were arrested on suspicions they were trafficking guns to Brazil’s Red Command.

According to a 2009 report by the Small Arms Survey, while having the highest per capita civilian gun ownership in South America (one firearm for every three people), Uruguay has a relatively small collection of modern small arms (61,000). However, much of this inventory was found to be useless, owing to reductions in military personnel. The report also documented a surplus of around 80,000 outdated rifles, sub-machine guns, and light machine guns, which serve no function in Uruguay’s national strategy and whose status was unknown.

The existence of such surplus weapons stocks may prove too tempting an opportunity for some corrupt military officials. Neighboring Brazil offers a prime market, where evidence suggests groups like the Red Command have been seeking to obtain ever more powerful weapons. In 2013, 40 percent of weapons seized in Rio de Janeiro were listed as “category A” — including rifles, machine guns, and submachine guns — representing a 33 percent increase since 2009.

Mexican Internal Security Policy Failures

Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto

Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto touted security accomplishments in his State of Union speech. Some of his claims need some serious scrutiny.

Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto’s state-of-the-union address

In his third State of the Union address the President acknowledged the last 12 months have been a “difficult year” for Mexico. He spoke of the 43 students disappeared in Iguala, Sinaloa Cartel leader Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman’s escape from prison and accusations of corruption at many levels of government, including the Executive Branch.

“These situations are all very different from each other, but they all hurt the spirit of the Mexican people and their trust in public institutions,” Peña Nieto said.

Defending his leadership through all this, the President presented a series of figures as proof of crime and security accomplishments. They included falling homicide andkidnapping rates and some of the lowest crime statistics in 17 years.

Additionally Peña Nieto highlighted the capture of 92 figures on Mexico‘s 122 most dangerous people list along with improved coordination and intelligence sharing to combat organized crime.

“We’re not just capturing them, we’re undermining their organizations and financial capacities,” he said.

Looking to the next three years of his term, the President put forth a 10-point plan centered around improving security and the rule of law while also jump starting the economy.

InSight Crime Analysis

According to Animal Politico, Peña Nieto’s claim of the second lowest crime rates in 17 years hinges on comparing two distinct categories of crime: “high impact crime” (mostly consisting of violent crime) vs total crime.

Aside from statistical shenanigans, official crime figures may not reflect the facts on the ground, as evidenced by a recent Mexico victimization survey, known as Envipe, which pointed to large differences in the amount of crimes occurring and the number reported to authorities.

If crimes do reach authorities there’s no guarantee they’ll be handled properly, according to a separate report by Animal Politico. Two out of three Mexican states reportedly had to revise their crime statistics this year. Some of the more egregious cases coincided with Mexico‘s major crime hotspots. For example, in May Sinaloa state announced it would add more than 10,000 preliminary investigations which had somehow not been registered over the last three years. Meanwhile in Atlantic-facing Veracruz state authorities admitted to failing to register nearly 300 homicides in 2013.

Further complicating the matter are Mexico‘s issues with forced disappearances. In February the Mexican government took issue with a United Nations report which statedforced disappearances (often involving security forces) are widespread and met with near total impunity. Many of these victims ended up in mass graves in which identifying the victim, and thus recording a crime, becomes difficult.

Looking at the President’s boast of capturing 92 of Mexico‘s 122 most dangerous people, it’s worth noting that a number of those arrested were reportedly caught during the previous administration.

The list itself has also been called into question after Mexico‘s Attorney General’s Officeremoved 10 names from it. Those removed included Sinaloa cartel underboss Juan Jose Esparragoza, alias “El Azul,” and Juarez cartel leader Juan Pablo Ledezma.

With Mexico‘s economy stagnating and Peña Nieto’s approval rating at an all time low, it’s to be expected the President would try and spin crime and security statistics in his favor. What is of real concern is his plans for the next half of his presidency.

The President’s recent appointment of Renato Sales as Mexico‘s new national security commissioner raises doubts. Outlining his agenda Sales put forth prison reform and increasing trust in Mexico’s Federal Police as top priorities. This leaves open questions on how Peña Nieto’s administration plans to make gains against Mexico‘s fragmenting and evolving organized crime groups which may not be as susceptible to Mexico‘s previous strategy of targeting criminal leaders.

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