It's starting to look like one of Mexico's drug cartels has declared war on the Sabritas snack company – a subsidiary of U.S. food giant PepsiCo – as police in southern Mexico say another one of the company's delivery trucks was torched with gasoline bombs, the Associated Press reports.
A Michoacan state police crime report says a truck belonging to Sabritas was traveling along a rural highway late Thursday when it was attacked. The assailants fled the scene; no group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
However, this happened just hours after the Knights of Templar drug cartel publicly took credit for the arson attacks that took place at five Sabritas distribution centers in Mexico last week, where dozens of trucks were set ablaze. The cult-like gang hung banners on Thursday accusing Sabritas of allowing law enforcement officers to use its trucks for transportation and to spy on them.
The company has denied the cartel's allegations and are now reportedly working with police to investigate the attacks, according to The Daily Mail.
"We repeat that 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," the company said.
Experts say drug cartels regularly earn money by demanding "protection payments" from local businesses. Some speculate that may be the motive behind the firebomb attacks. The gang-related bombings are said to mark the first time a multinational company has been targeted by cartels in such an attack since Mexico's brutal drug war began.
Several suspects, including a Knights of Templar lieutenant, were arrested on Monday in connection with the first series of attacks against the Sabritas snack company, according to the state attorney general's office in Guanajuato.
Gerardo Gutierrez, president of Mexico's Business Coordinating Council, on Monday explained that the attack was an "isolated case" of the extortion plots cartels implement on small and medium-sized businesses. He said law enforcement should act swiftly to prevent the tactic from becoming a common occurrence.
"What we cannot allow is for this kind of isolated case to become generalized," Gutierrez said. "The authorities have to take forceful action."
Despite the strong words, the company was targeted again before the week was out.
The Daily Mail has more background of the Knights of Templar:
The Knights Templar organisation is a relatively local, minor player in drug smuggling, trafficking mainly in methamphetamines and marijuana. With little access to the more lucrative cocaine and heroin business, cartel members have sought to raise money from other criminal activities.
'The Knights Templar have been more aggressive in their use of extortion and alternative sources [of income] than practically any other cartel, except the Zetas," Alejandro Hope, a security analyst and former official in Mexico's CISEN intelligence agency said. The hyperviolent Zetas cartel was formed along Mexico's Gulf coast by deserters from an elite military unit and has been linked to the extortion and kidnapping of civilians.
AFP also reported Wednesday that the U.S. government said it has been in contact with Mexico regarding the series of arson attacks on the PepsiCo-owned company.
"The United States strongly condemns these attacks and all acts of criminal violence," the State Department said in a statement.