Notorious Colombian drug group the Urabeños has killed dozens of police officers in recent weeks, in a calculated display of force intended to challenge the state and send a brutal message to the country’s incoming government.
A total of 25 police agents have been murdered in recent weeks across the country. The most recent attack came on July 26, when an officer was gunned down by a sniper in Tibú, northeastern Colombia. The murders appear to be part of a series of coordinated attacks against police in areas controlled by the Urabeños, also known as the Gulf Clan (Clan del Golfo), according to Colombia news outlet El País.
The bulk of murders have come in the departments of Antioquia, Chocó, Córdoba, and Sucre. There, the Urabeños have a commanding presence and have been at the center of the violence.
As part of the group's murder campaign, known as the "Pistol Plan," the Urabeños are purportedly offering between $1,000 and $4,000 for each police officer killed (approximately 4.5 to 18 million Colombian pesos), Cambio reported.
In response to the killings, Colombia police chief General Jorge Vargas said the security forces would not "bow down to the actions of narcoterrorists," adding the attacks were likely ordered by one of group's the main leaders, Jobanis de Jesús Ávila, alias 'Chiquito Malo,' in response to recent cocaine seizures made by the authorities.
In mid-July, a letter apparently signed by the Urabeños and other criminal networks declared the group's intention to enter peace talks with the incoming government of Gustavo Petro. Days later, however, a pamphlet signed by the Urabeños denied the letter's authenticity, casting doubt on the group's intentions to negotiate.
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The Urabeños' so-called Pistol Plan shows the group still has the ability to launch a coordinated operation against security forces, despite taking several blows over the last year.
Major setbacks in 2022 included the extradition of the group’s top leader, Dairo Antonio Úsua, alias "Otoniel." Following Otoniel's extradition in May, the group decreed a paro armado, or armed strike, paralyzing swaths of territory in northern Colombia for several days, and sending a clear message to the country's security forces.
The group has also been hard hit by arrests, with authorities capturing dozens of its members in recent months. There are also rumors of a possible war of succession within the group following Otoniel's extradition.
In light of these setbacks, the Pistol Plan may be a deliberate ploy by the Urabeños leaders to show strength ahead of the change in government.
The Urabeños have reportedly killed at least 22 police members this year in the departments of Antioquia, Chocó and Córdoba, northern Colombia. Some of these areas are controlled by top leader Chiquito Malo, according to a security expert who spoke to InSight Crime on condition of anonymity.
Another Urabeños leader, Wilmer Antonio Giraldo Quiroz, alias 'Siopas,' controls the Córdoba department where a patrol officer was killed on July 21 and where authorities are at high risk of further attacks, the same security expert told InSight Crime.
The Pistol Plan could also spread west to other parts of Chocó and the Pacific Coast, controlled by the last of the group's three main leaders, José Gonzalo Sánchez Sánchez, alias 'Gonzalito.'
The wave of violence against police – the deadliest seen since 2017 – has shaken Colombia's security establishment and shown the Urabeños are still a force to be reckoned with. It has also raised doubts about the outgoing government’s declaration that the group was close to petering out in late 2021.