Narco-banner in Puebla, signed in name of El Taliban

Narco-banners have appeared across Mexico with messages implying that a top leader of the Zetas has rejoined the ranks of the Gulf Cartel, calling attention to the Zetas’ ongoing internal battles.

SDP Noticias reported that several banners signed by the Gulf Cartel and the Knights Templar appeared in Mexico State on September 24. The text is the same as another banner that drug trafficking blog Blog del Narco reported appeared in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, the same day. The message states that the Gulf Cartel and the Knights Templar (Caballeros Templares) are united against the Zetas, and lists a string of betrayals allegedly carried out by Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño, alias “Z-40."

The banner, or “narcomanta,” then asks, “Why do you think Commander Taliban returned to the Gulf Cartel?”

Ivan Velazquez Caballero, alias “El Taliban” or “Z-50,” is a Zetas commander currently fighting Treviño. El Taliban was formerly the Zetas’ plaza chief in Cadereyta, a municipality in Nuevo Leon. Earlier this year he broke away from the Zetas, and began fighting operatives loyal to Treviño in central Mexico, including the states of Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi, and Nuevo Leon. The rift led to a wave of killings in these areas in August, including those of 14 people whose bodies were dumped in a gas station in San Luis Potosi on August 9.

El Taliban accuses Treviño of betraying several top Zetas leaders in the interest of solidifying his leadership and gain an advantage over the other top commander, Heriberto Lazcano, alias “Z-3.”

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So far, the narcomanta's suggestion that El Taliban has allied with the Gulf Cartel is unconfirmed. However, such a development would make sense. A previous narcomanta signed by El Taliban, which appeared on September 18, suggested that several different criminal groups should ally to fight Treviño’s faction of the Zetas. According to Borderland Beat, the narcomanta appeared on a highway in Puebla state. “Power is in unity and we are becoming more united,” the banner stated (see image, above). It called on Treviño's followers to abandon him, called him a traitor, echoing El Taliban.

The Knights Templar have already joined El Taliban’s war against Treviño. The group first hinted at the move in a banner which appeared in August, which described Treviño as “the maximum orchestrator of terrorism in our country” and promised to support “our brothers” who were fighting him. Another series of banners signed by the Knights Templar appeared on September 24 in Michoacan, reaffirming the group’s commitment to fighting Treviño. The fact that the banners which appeared in Mexico State on the same day were apparently co-signed by the Knights Templar and the Gulf Cartel also supports the idea that El Taliban is collaborating with the Gulf Cartel.

The Gulf Cartel has suffered a series of major blows recently -- including the recent arrest of leader Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, alias "El Coss” -- meaning that it is in a weakened position and is more likely to be willing to establish an alliance with El Taliban in order to battle the Zetas.

Treviño apparently made his thoughts on the El Taliban-Knights Templar alliance public, with several narcomantas hung in cities across Zacatecas state on September 20, which Borderland Beat has translated. The message uses harsh language to insult Treviño's rivals, and insists that Treviño remains loyal to Heriberto Lazcano. 

Each side will likely continue to use narcomantas as the primary medium to trade insults and announce new alliances, in an effort to present themselves as stronger than their rivals. The Zetas' internal dispute with El Taliban will likely absorb much of their attention and resources in central Mexico in the coming month, especially if El Taliban can rely on the backing of the Knights Templar and the Gulf Cartel