The skies over Mexico have become more dangerous. The Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), one of the country's most violent factions, now commands a unit of expert drone operators. Their primary mission? Transform commercial drones into deadly airborne weapons.
After weaponizing drones for over four years, the CJNG is upping its game. The new elite unit signals a calculated escalation. As a cartel insider revealed to The Daily Beast, “We began training as a group in 2021, but only this year we started operating.”
Their main targets include rivals like Los Viagras, Knights Templar, and the Sinaloa Cartel. Deploying drones miles away from their targets, they then unleash destruction from the skies.
“We can be miles away and confirm that they [rivals] are at a certain house or vehicle and then crash the drone with the explosives,” the source described.
To stand out within the cartel, the drone squad sports a patch depicting a quadcopter drone, a skull's face, and the words “Operadores Droneros.”
Though limited to Michoacán and Jalisco states and boasting about a dozen members, this team isn't to be underestimated.
A Mexican intelligence official remarked, “The Operadores Droneros is still a new… group inside the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, but… they have enough power to focus our attention on to them.”
The drones they use, often procured online from platforms like Amazon or eBay, are predominantly made in China. After their purchase, the cartel modifies them, fitting them with homemade explosives. “Then we add some shrapnel like buckshot and nails to add more damage,” the operator explained.
The Daily Beast obtained inside footage that showed the unit's preparations. A video showcased an operative rigging explosives in plastic bottles with a commercial DJI drone nearby. The footage was allegedly shot just before a raid on the Knights Templar in Apatzingan.
The drone operations team initially received training from foreign experts.
“A gringo [American] showed us how to make our own explosives… And the Colombian showed us how to drive and maneuver a drone,” the informant shared.
These explosive drones have spelled disaster for Mexican officials. In 2022, a military convoy was ambushed by these drones in Michoacán. Four people died, and six were injured in the devastating attack.
The Mexican government is reacting. President López Obrador recently proposed a bill to arm law enforcement with anti-drone tech. From 2021 to August this year, 23 Weaponized drones were captured by the Mexican army.
John P. Sullivan of C/O Futures noted the grave implications of such drone weaponization, stating that it presents “a more profound threat to the state and its security forces.” He predicted future attacks on law enforcement and border patrols.
Responding to the crisis, China confessed to producing most of the civilian drones used by criminals and is clamping down on exports.
Yet, for the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, these measures seem inconsequential.
The operative defiantly said, “This is a war, and we will source our weapons from wherever we can.”
Photos courtesy of The Daily Beast. Source: Jalisco New Generation Cartel
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