A new wave of threats and violent attacks against judges, prosecutors and witnesses involved in the case against the Monos has the Argentine city of Rosario on tenterhooks ahead of a new trial against the criminal group in September. The violence has also put a renewed focus on corruption within the prison system.

On the night of August 13, a man armed with a machine gun opened fire on a building in the center of Rosario where a judge involved in the case against the infamous criminal organization once lived, La Nación reported. Rather than an attempt to harm the judge, authorities believe the attack was designed to show they have access to information on the personal lives of people involved in the trial.

Judge Gabriela Sanzó is reviewing the appeal presented by the leaders of the Monos, who in April were sentenced to long prison terms on charges of racketeering and homicide.

The attackers left a handwritten sign that read “Stop jailing the boys,” in reference to members of the group who were recently moved from local to federal prisons to serve their sentences.

Local media outlets have reported another 13 similar attacks against judges, prosecutors and witnesses since the first such incident took place on May 29.

On August 4, one of the witnesses in the April trial was shot dead on his front door, reported Página12.

SEE ALSO: Argentina Country Profile

Authorities warned that attacks have increased in the run-up to the upcoming new trial of the leaders of the Monos, scheduled to start on September 20.

Two of the group’s leaders, Ariel Máximo “Guille” Cantero and Jorge Emanuel “Ema” Chamorro, have been charged with leading a large-scale drug trafficking structure, a crime that carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. The crimes were allegedly committed while the men were held in the Piñero prison near Rosario.

Another 32 men and women, including Cantero’s mother and both men’s romantic partners, have also been charged with taking part in the group as part of the mega operation “Los Patrones.”

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The fresh wave of violence in Rosario, and the fact that the Monos have taken responsibility for some of the attacks have made it clear that the group’s grip on power in Argentina’s second largest city is still largely intact.

While violence has recently spiked in the city, reaching some of the highest levels in the country, the wave of attacks against judges, prosecutors and witnesses involved in ensuring members of the Monos were put behind bars is a new phenomenon.

Experts consulted by InSight Crime and public officials said the new wave of attacks are designed to send a message about the Monos’ capacity to penetrate the state.

“We have seen armed attacks before, but among members of drug trafficking organizations, not against judges and prosecutors. The fact that the attacks are against houses where they used to live shows they don’t want to kill them but show them they have such detailed information. One of the attacks was against the house were a judge lived 18 years ago — not even the neighbors knew she used to live there. There’s a suspicion that the police are involved,” author Germán de los Santos told InSight Crime.

Aside from police collusion, experts believe the biggest problem lies in a corrupt prison system that allows criminal organizations to operate freely.

The investigation carried out into the May 29 attack against the house of the judge who sentenced the leaders of the Monos revealed that the attacker had been in close contact with members of the gang while they were held in a local prison. This might also explain the reason behind the attacks, which many believe to be a response to both Cantero and Chamorro’s desperate attempts to be sent back to the Piñero prison in Santa Fe, where their power lies.

Authorities have so far focused the response to the violence on the deployment of more gendarmerie to Rosario, and increasing cooperation between federal and state level agencies, largely missing one of the key reasons why violence is still rising in the city and the problems it can cause in the future: corruption within the police and prison systems.

“The attacks are a symbolic way to show that the Monos can do anything, that they can carry out a gun attack in the center of the city and that no one is arrested. That they can be put in prison but that they can still control their business from there. The danger is that “narco jails” seem to be developing in Santa Fe, and this could be the beginning of what we are now seeing in Brazil, where whole sectors of prisons are controlled by criminal groups. That is a very difficult thing to dismantle,” de los Santos said.

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