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Drug gang flame grills potato chips

June 4, 2012

Members of the Knights Templar drug gang firebombed a Sabritas delivery truck in Michoacan last Thursday night, targeting the potato-chip company for the second time in six days.

Hours earlier, the cartel hung banners claiming responsibility for previous arson attacks against Sabritas. A subsidiary of U.S. food giant PepsiCo, Sabritas had become the first multinational victim of Mexico’s drug war when armed assailants targeted the company in two states on May 25 and 26.

The Knights Templars burned 12 delivery trucks at two distribution centers in Guanajuato and another 37 vehicles at three warehouses in Michoacan. No one was hurt but security has been stepped up in Sabritas’ Zapopan plant as a result of the attacks.

The latest incident took place around 9.30 p.m. on a rural road leading out of Morelia, the Michoacan state capital. Hooded men with assault rifles intercepted the Sabritas truck, doused it with gasoline and set it ablaze. The driver suffered burns but managed to escape and is now out of hospital.

Authorities originally believed the firebombings to be a form of extortion, a theory apparently confirmed by four suspects arrested after the first wave of attacks. While extortion of small and medium-sized businesses is not uncommon in some parts of Mexico, this would have been the first time a multinational company had been targeted since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the nation’s cartels in December 2006.

However, banners left by members of the Knights Templar suggested these were revenge attacks against Sabritas for letting law enforcement agents use its trucks for surveillance purposes.

“We have been affected by companies that allow themselves to be used to transport people throughout Michoacan, to carry out activities against our brotherhood,” read the banners, which attributed the attacks to the Knights Templar, a pseudo-religious offshoot of Michoacan’s now-defunct La Familia cartel.

“These are government intelligence agents who pass themselves off as sales agents for this company,” the banners explained. “We are telling all companies that lend themselves to these activities that they will be punished for offenses.”

With rumors circulating even before the banners were unveiled, PepsiCo’s Mexico office appeared to deny the allegations early last week.

“In accordance with our code of conduct, all of our operations are carried out in the current regulatory framework and our vehicles and facilities are used exclusively to carry our products to our customer and clients,” read a company statement issued in the aftermath of the first attacks.

“There is no information that would indicate that the damaged vehicles were being used for any purpose other than delivery duties,” added Interior Undersecretary Obdulio Avila at a press conference on Friday. Avila vowed that the crimes will not go unpunished and promised the government will protect multinational business interests.

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