World
Devils, Deals and the DEA
Why Chapo Guzman was the biggest winner in the DEA's longest running drug cartel case
 
 
For 14 months, the first thing Dave Herrod, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration, did every morning was boot up his laptop and begin tracking a 43-foot yacht with Dock Holiday painted on the stern.
 
In the summer of 2005, the DEA had intercepted a conversation in which members of a Mexican drug cartel known as the Arellano Félix Organization discussed buying a yacht in California. Herrod and his colleagues studied the classified ads in yacht magazines and determined that the Dock Holiday was the boat the AFO members wanted. DEA agents then managed to get on board and install tracking devices before the sale went through. That’s when Herrod started watching the boat on his laptop.
 
Since the early 1990s, the Arellano brothers — the inspiration for the Obregón brothers in the movie Traffic — had controlled the flow of drugs through what was perhaps the single most important point for illicit commerce in the world: the border crossing from Tijuana to San Diego. Much of the AFO’s success derived from its predilection for innovative violence. The cartel employed a crew of “baseballistas” who would hang victims from rafters, like piñatas, and beat them to death with bats. Pozole, the Spanish word for a traditional Mexican stew, was the AFO’s euphemism for a method of hiding high-profile victims: Stuff them headfirst into a barrel of hot lye or acid and stir for 24 hours until only their teeth were left, then pour them down the drain.
 
Dismantling the AFO had been an official project of the U.S. government since 1992, and an obsession of Herrod’s since the year before that, when he’d started chasing the cartel as a rookie agent stationed near San Diego. A former athlete, he spent years guzzling Pepsi and Mountain Dew to power through long workdays. His health, like everything else, took a backseat to the AFO case.
 
After the sale of the Dock Holiday, the trackers showed the vessel hugging the coast of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, rounding the tip of Cabo San Lucas, and heading north into the Gulf of California to La Paz. Once in a while, it sailed to Rancho Leonero, where Javier Arellano Félix, the head of the AFO at the time, had a beach house. Herrod knew that Javier loved deep-sea fishing, and he was convinced that the cartel’s chief executive was using the boat. So the DEA launched Operation Shadow Game. The plan: Watch the Dock Holiday to find out if Javier would be on it, then intercept the boat should it stray beyond Mexico’s territorial waters.
 
For six weeks, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Monsoon stood sentinel off Baja California, waiting for the yacht to venture more than 12 nautical miles off the coast and into international waters. But it never did. On August 12, 2006, Operation Shadow Game came to an end. The Monsoon set off for other duties, and Herrod left his laptop dark for the first time since the previous summer.
 
Two days later, he got a call at 8 a.m. from the Florida-based Joint Interagency Task Force South, which was still monitoring the tracking devices. The Dock Holiday had left Mexican sovereignty south of Cabo San Lucas. The men on the boat were chasing marlin, zigzagging in and out of international waters: out to 19 miles, back to 10 miles, then out to 15, then back to 12. The task force wanted to know whether the Coast Guard should board the Dock Holiday if the opportunity arose.
 
Herrod had only a hunch as to who was on the boat. The DEA had deemed the operation an expensive failure and pulled its on-the-ground surveillance weeks earlier. Agents who had worked on the AFO case for years were being reassigned entirely. Herrod figured he’d never have another chance to catch Javier outside of Mexico. Without asking his supervisors, he gave the order: Send the Monsoon back.
 
At 1 p.m., 13.1 nautical miles off Mexico, the Coast Guard intercepted the Dock Holiday. Herrod waited at the office in San Diego, pacing back and forth, as the Coast Guard collected identification from those on board. Agents shuffled past his cubicle asking for updates, like restless children on a road trip. After two hours, he got a message from the Monsoon: eight men and three boys on board. At 4 p.m., photographs started coming through by e-mail. The first two faces, those of the captain and a crewman, were unfamiliar. So were the next two. Could he have been wrong? Then came the fifth picture, and it took Herrod’s breath away: a mustachioed man in a pale-yellow Lacoste shirt, reclining on white-leather seats. This was “El Nalgón,” or “Big Ass”: Manuel Arturo Villarreal Heredia, the 30-year-old chief enforcer for the AFO. According to agents, he was known for his facility with knife-based torture.
 
Herrod had never seen the young man in the sixth photo, though he had the Arellano family’s heavy eyebrows. Next came pictures of the three children and another unfamiliar man. In the final photo, staring wide-eyed into the camera, was a compact, square-jawed man wearing a thin gold chain that disappeared under the collar of his salmon-colored T-shirt. His pursed lips were framed by stubble and his eyebrows arched in subtle confusion. Herrod and an agent sitting beside him shot out of their chairs. The man was Javier… Continue Reading…
 

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China's online retail trade tops all globally
China's online retail trade ranked first globally from January to October, with a total of 2.95 trillion yuan (about $455 billion) in online transactions during the period, the media reported on Thursday.
 
The claim was made in a report titled "Internet Development In China Over the Last Two Decades", according to the People's Daily. 
 
"As of July of this year, the number of netizens in China reached 668 million, which is the world's largest online population. There are four Chinese companies listed in the world's top 10 internet companies: Alibaba, Tencent, Baidu and JD.com," said Yang Shuzhen, head of the Chinese Academy of Cyberspace. 
 
China has outstripped the rest of the world in online retail transactions to become the world's largest online retail market. In 2014, China's online retail sales reached 2.8 trillion yuan, accounting for 10.6 percent of total retail sales in the country. 
 
From January to October 2015, total online transactions reached 2.95 trillion yuan. 
 
During the online shopping festival on November 11, total sales on Alibaba and its affiliated platforms reached 91.2 billion yuan.
 
Growth of online retail sales comes from the parallel rapid development of mobile internet in China. As of June 2015, China's mobile phone users numbered 594 million, accounting for 88.9 percent of all netizens. 
 
Among 374 million online shoppers in China, 270 million make online purchases using mobile phones. The development of mobile internet has also brought great changes to travel, car rental, takeout and medical services.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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In the heart of Europe's 'terrorist hub', youth alienation keeps nerves on edge
To a casual visitor, this province of Brussels may look like any other - a bit run down in parts, but largely having the glass-fronted stores, cafes and bars visible in most other places across Europe. The distinction though is the dress of choice among many women. Everywhere, you see the hijab, not unlike in an Arab nation. But this is Brussels, the capital of Belgium, the headquarters of the European Union in the heart of Europe.
 
Molenbeek Saint-Jean, a province or municipality of the capital with about 100,000 residents and an area of 5.9 sq km, has earned the notorious epithet of "terrorist hub" as three of the attackers who killed 130 people in Paris a month ago came from here.
 
Several other terrorist attacks have been traced to this area, including the one in Madrid, Spain, where bombs in a train killed 181 commuters. The bombs were planted by Al Qaeda-inspired militants who had lived in Molenbeek. Ahmed Shah Masood, the leader of Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, was killed by a Taliban supporter who had lived here. Several smaller attacks were found to be led by persons who lived in Molenbeek.
 
So why has the province produced more than its fair share of jihadists?
 
"The youth in the area do not have much work and some of them may seem to be attracted to jihadist thinking," Johan de Becker, Police Chief of Brussels West, told IANS. Brussels West has jurisdiction over Molenbeek and five other provinces.
 
He said the local police knew some of the men who were involved in the attack in Paris, but only as "petty thieves", not as major criminals.
 
The police chief said that the Paris attack had made them realise the need for greater police presence, especially those with an Arabic background. Becker said that police recruitment at present is done nationally and Arab-origin people in Molenbeek find it difficult to join, especially since education levels among them are low. "We are asking that recruitment rules be changed and more money allocated for police," he said.
 
Molenbeek has almost 40 per cent population of Moroccan origin. In the fifties and sixties, when Belgium needed workers for its coal mines, it looked at Morocco to bring in young, hardworking people. They came in their hundreds for the mines and later for subway construction. Their families followed. Most of them lived in small apartments in the area.
 
In the last two decades, the economy of the area turned for the worst and there have hardly been any employment opportunities.
 
"For several years, the political leaders ignored the need for measures to prevent jihadist thinking from taking hold. We did not give enough support to Muslims from Morocco which I think is important," Francoise Schepmans, Mayor of Molenbeek, at the City Hall, told IANS.
 
She said that lack of education among young Moroccans reduces their chances of finding a job and many were on welfare support which often led to frustration. Some of the informal mosques, in residential areas, may be centres of jihadism, she said, although the main mosques -- there are 25 of them -- are not a problem. But she objects to the whole of Molenbeek being called a "terrorist hub".
 
"We, of course, need more control on what goes on in informal mosques," she said, adding they also needed more money for education, for community services, for outreach programmes and for making youth part of society.
 
The Townhall where the mayor sits is just across from where two of the terrorists lived. Ibrahim Abdeslam, who blew himself up in Paris, was heavily into religion and was a regular mosque goer, said Nasih Atiq from Pakistan who works in his brother's shop La Maison du Saree or House of Sarees nearby. He said he used to see Ibrahim quite often but did not talk to him.
 
Ibrahim's brother, Salah Abdeslam, who is absconding and who rented a car in Brussels that was said by police to have been used for carrying the gunmen that killed 89 persons in the Bataclan concert hall, lived just next to the House of Sarees. According to Nasih, he saw him almost on a daily basis before the attack. "He was like any other young man in the area. He was not religious at all and used to love riding his motorcycle," Nasih told IANS.
 
He said for the first few days police were everywhere in the area and the houses were sealed and neighbours questioned. But a month later everything appears to have returned to normal with no police personnel in sight. What has not come to normal is the business. "It may be limping back, but customers are still not coming in full force," says Danish Atiq, Nasih's brother and proprietor of the two saree shops in Molenbeek.
 
Most of his clients are Moroccans and just because a few oddballs had turned out to be terrorists, it doesn't mean people should condemn the whole province, he said.
 
He found it to be a failure of federal police that the mastermind of Paris attacks like Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who lived in Molenbeek and who had gone to Syria and returned, was not tracked. "When you have people coming back from Syria, what are your intelligence services doing?" he asked.
 
Hassan Rahali, a Molenbeek Council member, echoes sentiments that giving the province a bad name would not solve anything. "A very, very small group of people are radicalised and the authorities know about them. Why did they not act earlier?" he said.
 
Rahali, who is of Moroccan origin and is a second generation Belgian, says that those who were involved in the Paris attacks were "radicals taking the name of Islam, not Islamic radicals".
 
Noting that there were 40,000 or so people of Moroccan origin in Molenbeek, he asked: "Can you say they are radicals? Look around you, life is normal here. This is not terrorist country."
 
"The radicals are the failures of the state," he said, pointing out that they had very little help by way of education or employment or even identity as Belgians. "They were hurt by the system, so thought of hurting it back." Rahali said, adding that some jihadist recruiters from Antwerp were trying to lure the young with money and weapons. "Some stupid people do get convinced."
 
Rahali said his biggest worry was about the impact on normal youth in Molenbeek. "European media has painted the whole town black. Do you think Muslim youths would get jobs for the next 10 years after this?"
 
The heavy police presence and raids have had an impact on ordinary people's attitude. Nerves are on edge, as one can see during a walk through the run-down parts of Molenbeek, called the Lower area. People object to being photographed and refuse to be interviewed.
 
In the Mustaqbal Mosque, as devotees congregate for evening prayers, they are not very receptive to being photographed. In fact, many young followers made the IANS correspondent delete pictures that were taken earlier inside without objection. They also declined to allow a meeting with the mosque head, who was leading the prayers.
 
The edginess is understandable. For weeks, few would have seen a relaxed minute as federal and local police carried out raid after raid. Even a month later, life in some areas is yet to return to normal.
 
Saad Benaissa, of Moroccan origin, has been in Molenbeek for the last 15 years and runs a small eatery near an area called Place de la Duchesse which was earlier vibrant and full of life. His place has suffered immensely. "Earlier business was very good. Now, it has gone down steeply. I don't know what to do. I can't go anywhere else," he said.
 
That's true for most residents in Molenbeek who have to lower their heads and let the storm pass. Paris was a wake-up call for the authorities, who are trying to purge the jihadist elements from the area which has unfortunately become a synonym for terrorism in Europe.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.

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