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Cablegate: Major Gun Battle Between Mexican Army and Zetas At

VZCZCXRO0517
RR RUEHRS
DE RUEHNL #0044/01 0531539
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 221538Z FEB 10
FM AMCONSUL NUEVO LAREDO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0014
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO
INFO ALL US CONSULATES IN MEXICO COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 NUEVO LAREDO 000044

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
DEPT FOR WHA/MEX, CA/OCS EMBASSY FOR DCM, MCCA, RSO

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV ASEC CASC MX
SUBJECT: Major Gun Battle Between Mexican Army and Zetas at
International Bridge

1. SBU - entire text.

2. SUMMARY: A major gun battle, clearly audible from the
Texas side of the river, rang out at approximately 2130 hours
February 19. Though Mexican sources are being vague about some of
the details, it appears clear that this was another unplanned
run-in between the Army and the Zetas. There are no known civilian
casualties, which is mainly a result of luck. The shootout
happened as VIPs, including Speaker of the House Pelosi, gathered
in Laredo for the Washington's Birthday festivities, and it deals
yet another blow to Nuevo Laredo's fruitless attempts to attract
tourists. END SUMMARY.

3. ARSO AND DEA RAC were just entering the approaches to the
northbound lanes of International Bridge 2 when a heavy firefight
broke out just behind them. The noise was described as being like
the finale of a fireworks show, and included heavy thumps from
grenades or similar weaponry. Authorities on the bridge swiftly
moved the traffic across and out of harm's way. ARSO talked to an
Amcit whose car was riddled with bullets; the several occupants
were luckily unharmed.

4. ARSO immediately alerted PO, who initiated post's phone
tree and informed Department and Embassy. Post followed up with a
warden message, advising Amcits to shelter in place and avoid the
bridges (thanks to Ops Center and OCS for assisting us with this,
as it was inadvisable for our dutyoff to travel to office). One of
post's ELOs and EFM sheltered in place in Laredo rather than return
through the battle zone (COMMENT: This is same couple who heard a
firefight break out within a block of their house within days of
arriving at post in December. END COMMENT.)

5. Confusion reigned for several hours, with the Army denying
involvement at first, and officials on both sides of the river
unclear as to what was happening, while ARSO worked the phones well
into the night to track down details. Local and Federal law
enforcement deployed to the U.S. side of the bridge, to prevent the
violence from spilling over. There were rumors of a curfew in
Nuevo Laredo and closing of the bridges - indeed, Nuevo Laredo
police initially informed Laredo police that this was the case,
then retracted - but neither appears to have taken place. (In
fact, authorities apparently let traffic flow on the southbound
bridge right into the area of the firefight while it was going on.)
Narco convoys were reported in several areas of the city, including
near the Consulate, probably as decoys. A local hospital reports
treating Army soldiers, but Army will not confirm or deny.

6. What now appears clear is that the Army bumped into
heavily armed Zetas four blocks south of the bridge. An internal
GOM report says that a 50cal weapon, mounted in an SUV, was found.
An immediate firefight broke out, then moved south and west through
Nuevo Laredo's historic center, lasting several hours. Several
sources report that Zeta scouts, who have been thick on the streets
lately, were moving stolen cars into the streets, then abandoning
them, frustrating the Army's efforts at pursuit. This pattern
suggests to post that the Army inadvertently bumped into the
security cordon for a high value target, triggering a response
(though the presence of an HVT so close to the POE gives pause for
thought). A GOM source confirmed to PO that this was not a planned
operation by the Army.

7. On February 20, PO kept a breakfast date with civil
leaders at a well-guarded City Hall. The usually unflappable Mayor
was clearly concerned, confirming that the situation had been very
confused well into the night. At first he had been worried that it
had been cartel on cartel violence, which Nuevo Laredo hadn't seen
in recent years. He was keenly aware that such an event taking
place when Federal and Texas officials (including a surprise visit
by Speaker Pelosi) and the media were in Laredo for the culmination
of the month-long Washington's Birthday celebration gave Nuevo
Laredo a black eye.


8. The City Hall group then moved to International Bridge 2,
which was heavily guarded by the Army and the Federal Police.
Laredo officials had considered moving the yearly abrazo ceremony
away from the bridge, which would have made headlines in the Texas
media, but allowed it to proceed. Later on Saturday, there was
still heavy security on both sides of the border, including boats
and helicopters on the U.S. side.

9. The Laredo Morning Times reported the shootout in its
electronic edition February 20, and the print edition February 21,
while noting that no Mexican authority would confirm details on the
record. Post found blog entries by Times readers helpful in
corroborating elements of the story. Thus far, Mexican media has
ignored the event.

10. COMMENT: This is the fourth gun battle in four months
involving the Army in a heavily travelled area frequented by post
personnel and other Amcits. One was near the Consulate, one near
our residences, and two at the bridge. Three involved the Zetas.
With that many shots fired in a busy area at mid-evening, it's a
miracle that innocent bystanders were not wounded or killed in this
latest incident. The timing could not have been worse for Nuevo
Laredo's attempts to rehabilitate its image. None of these
shootouts were planned by the Army, and none of them have resulted
in the apprehension of high value targets. Zeta scouts have
clearly been nervous for at least two weeks, deployed on many
streets, including quite close to one of our residences a block
from the Consulate. Their tension level rose when Laredo media
reported the arrival of a heavily guarded GOM airplane on February
13. The Zetas appear to fear an operation launched from Laredo,
and have deployed accordingly. As an alternative to our theory
about a high value target, it's also possible that the Army bumped
into the Zeta front lines near the bridge. END COMMENT.

11. Post will continue to seek information about this latest
shootout, and share same with the Department.
HEFLIN

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