An unidentified drug cartel dropped thousands of anti-government leaflets from a plane in the northern Mexico city of Culiacan, which accused Sinaloa Gov. Mario Lopez Valdez of taking orders from Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the leader of the ruthless Sinaloa cartel, The Associated Press reports.
Officials said it is the first time in recent memory that a drug cartel has used fly-over leafletting as a means to get a message out. However, they have tried other unconventional ways like leaving dozens of decapitated and mutilated bodies strewn along a highway.
"I can't remember any cartel having used an airplane to do this, nor of them having distributed propaganda in public places," said Raul Benitez, security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
The documents were reportedly single-paged, computer-printed, unsigned and contained a message expressing anger at the killing of a member of a Beltran Leyva gang member inside a Sinaloa cartel-dominated prison three days ago. The leaflet was direct and to the point:
"The governor, on orders from Chapo Guzman, told the federal prosecutor's representative to send Javier Avilez Araujo to be tortured and murdered in the state penitentiary," the leaflet read.
"Act like men, don't kill people who are tied up like El Chapo Guzman does," it continued. "Without the help of Malova, we would have finished your people off already!," it said using the governor's nickname.
Officials can't confirm who was behind the stunt, however, the Zetas cartel could be a likely suspect as they are both aligned with the remnants of the Beltran Leyva gang and locked in a brutal territory battle with the Sinaloa cartel.
The AP has more background on the ongoing turf war being waged by the rival Zetas and Sinaloa cartels:
The wording of the letter suggests it may have been written by the Zetas, who have launched tit-for-tat attacks on Sinaloa strongholds after Sinaloa cartel gunmen and their allies moved into Zetas turf in the Gulf coast states of Veracruz and Tamaulipas.
Both sides have trumpeted their incursions by dumping truckloads of bodies, presumably of rivals, but apparently also including some innocent people.
"There is a tremendous war between the Zetas and Sinaloa," said Benitez, the security expert.
While it once would have been unthinkable for another gang to try to enter the home turf of Sinaloa, which was long considered Mexico's most powerful cartel, the battle may be becoming more equal.
The leafleting in Culiacan could be another indication of the Zetas' confidence. The leaflet concludes with a veiled threat, "We all have vulnerable spots, and sooner or later you pay for what you do."
"Both (cartels) are big, but in different ways," Benitez said. "The Sinaloa cartel is very powerful in monetary terms, but it has a weak force of hit men. And the Zetas are weak in terms of money, but they are very strong in military terms, they have real armies of killers."
The tit-for-tat battle is only likely to continue, he said. "It's about attacking enemy territory ... they keep striking blows against each other."
Lopez Valdez has denied any connection to the Sinaloa cartel. He said about Guzman, "This is a person I don't even know, whom I have never had contact with and from whom I have never received an order."
Forbes ranks Guzman, 55, as the 55th most powerful person in the world and the 10th richest billionaire in Mexico. Forbes mentions his Sinaloa cartel affiliation and lists his source of wealth as "Drug trafficking, Self-made."
Sinaloa state police spokesman Edmundo Apodaca came to the defense of the governor calling the accusations, "just another reaction by the criminals against the measures being taken" by the government. Mexican authorities are the one common enemy all the cartels share.
Still, rumors of corruption continues to swirl around Mexico's government and military. Last week, a fourth high-ranking army officer was detained for questioning regarding connections to drug cartels, including the former assistant secretary of defense.
Investigators are still trying to figure out exactly how the leaflets were dropped, which could prove to be difficult because no witnesses reported seeing a plane.