Authorities in Mexico have voiced fears the Jalisco Cartel has arrived in Baja California state, the most substantial indication yet the powerful criminal organization is expanding northward, potentially setting the stage for a deadly turf war between rival cartels.
Gualberto Ramírez Gutiérrez, head of the kidnapping unit within Mexico's Attorney General's Office (Procuraduría General de la República - PGR), said authorities believe the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (Cartel de Jalisco - Nueva Generación - CJNG) is moving into the border state as he announced the capture of a suspected Sinaloa Cartel hit man, El Universal reported.
Marco Tulio Carrillo Grande, alias "El Marlon," allegedly the Sinaloa Cartel's head of assassins in the area, was arrested in Tijuana -- Baja California's largest city.
Authorities suspect Carrillo Grande of organizing recent violent attacks against members of rival cartels, including the Arellano Félix Cartel (also known as the Tijuana Cartel) and CJNG.
Baja California's location affords valuable smuggling routes into the United States. It was previously contested by the Sinaloa Cartel and the Arellano Félix Cartel, and the former emerged as the predominant organization following a 2008 - 2010 turf war.
Headed by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias "El Mencho," the CJNG already has an established presence in the states of Colima, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Morelos, Nayarit, and Veracruz, according to El Universal, despite being a relative newcomer to Mexico's criminal landscape.
The group has developed a particularly brutal reputation for violence and bloodshed. In April 2015, the CJNG carried out an attack on a police convoy that killed 15 officers. The following month the cartel shot down a military helicopter with a rocket propelled grenade.
InSight Crime Analysis
Ramírez's statements are the highest-profile claim yet made by a Mexican official placing CJNG in Baja California. While previous official comments suggested the CJNG might be attempting to expand its influence in the region, they stopped short of suggesting the group had established a significant foothold there.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Jalisco Cartel
Speculation the CJNG was moving into Baja California arose earlier this year as authorities sought an explanation for an uptick in violence in Tijuana, which saw nearly twice as many murders in January 2016 as it did in January 2015.
Ramírez Gutiérrez's claim about the CJNG's presence in the state appeared to be linked to evidence suggesting Carrillo Grande organized attacks against CJNG operators on behalf of the Sinaloa Cartel.
A straightforward narrative about warring cartels, however, may be too simplistic an explanation of the reality on the ground in Baja California. Previously, it has been difficult to parse when and where the Sinaloa Cartel and CJNG are in open conflict, versus where they engage in varying degrees of collaboration.
As such, it is too early to definitively conclude what type of organizational alignment or turf war might ultimately emerge in Tijuana -- if the CJNG is in fact seeking to expand its presence in region.