Monday, October 31, 2011

Hacker group takes on Mexican drug cartel over kidnapped activist

The Times

Computer hackers may be about to open a dangerous new front in Mexico’s brutal drug wars after threatening to expose online the high-placed allies of a notorious cartel unless it releases a kidnapped activist.

Anonymous, an international hacker co-operative, has posted on YouTube a video vowing to fight the vicious Zetas cartel from cyberspace using information rather than guns or knives.

The clip makes reference to an unidentified hacker abducted by the drug-runners in the Mexican coastal city of Veracruz. “You have made a great mistake by taking one of us — free him,” the video says.

Action online would quickly mean blood on the streets, however. Anyone exposed as a Zetas collaborator, accurately or otherwise, would become an instant target for rival cartels engaged in an already bloody turf war for control of Veracruz, according to analysts.

Stratfor, a global intelligence organisation which picked up on the video last week, said that the Zetas could retaliate by attacking internet activists regardless of whether they were affiliated to Anonymous.

The hacker co-operative has claimed responsibility for attacks on targets from the Church of Scientology and the Tunisian Government to Visa and MasterCard.

One of its activists, face concealed by the theatrical mask the group has claimed as its trademark, said in the film that Anonymous was “tired of the criminal group the Zetas, which is dedicated to kidnapping, stealing and extortion”.

It claims to know of senior police officers, journalists, taxi drivers and others who are in the cartel’s pocket, and to be willing to publish their names, addresses and photographs on Friday unless the Zetas free its activist.

“We cannot defend ourselves with weapons, but we can with their cars, houses, bars,” the message adds, apparently alluding to properties owned by cartel supporters. “It’s not difficult.

“We know who they are and where they are. Information is free. We are Anonymous. We are legion. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Wait and see.”

An official of the Veracruz state attorney-general’s office said he was unable to confirm either the kidnapping or the authenticity of the video.

Veracruz, an oil state on the Gulf of Mexico, has become a battleground over the past few months as several rival cartels try to wrest power from the Zetas, who moved in about a year ago.

Dozens of bodies have been found as the power struggle has escalated. Last month 35 corpses were dumped on a major road during rush hour in the city of Boca del Rio.

The drug wars began shifting to the internet in July when postings announced the arrival of a gang calling itself the Mata Zetas, or Zeta Killers, who the authorities say are probably linked to the powerful Sinaloa Cartel. Other commentators suspect they are simply vigilantes.

Three people have been killed recently in the northern states of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas by suspected Zetas who apparently believed the victims had used the internet to spread information about the cartel.

Last month a newspaper editor was found decapitated in northern Mexico, a message attached to her body warning people against denouncing violence on social media sites. In the most violent towns and cities, residents are increasingly using Twitter to report gang activity.

It is unclear when Anonymous’s video was uploaded, but it is believed to have been in the past month.

More than 40,000 people have died in drug-related violence since the Mexican Government ordered a nationwide military offensive against the cartels in 2006.
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