Terrorist Tactics by Criminal Organizations: The Mexican Case in Context

Brian J. Phillips


In the past 10 years in Mexico, more than 100,000 people have been killed in violence related to organized crime. Some attacks have left horrific scenes, meant to send messages to the public or government. Debate continues about how to characterize this violence, and some observers describe it as “terrorism” or its perpetrators as “terrorists.” This article emphasizes that Mexico has experienced terrorist tactics by criminal organizations. This implies that while the perpetrators are better thought of (and dealt with) as criminal groups, some of their violence at least partially fulfills the criteria to be defined as terrorism. The use of terrorist tactics by criminal groups is an understudied aspect of the crime-terror nexus because more research examines crime by terrorist groups. The article discusses three tactics seen in Mexico: bombings, violent communication, and attacks against politicians. It then presents comparable examples from other countries, such as Brazil, Colombia, Italy, and Russia. Similarities and differences between criminal groups and terrorist groups are discussed. The violence in Mexico is relatively unique for its scale, for the number of people killed, but in general the use of terrorist tactics by criminal organizations is not new.

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Perspectives on Terrorism is  a journal of the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies

ISSN  2334-3745 (Online)

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