Who are the Dragones Urbanos operating in Tamaulipas?

This elite branch of the Secretariat of National Defense is known for its ability to take down criminals during confrontations, with some of these deaths occurring outside of the legal system.

Who are the Dragones Urbanos operating in Tamaulipas?
"Dragones Urbanos" neutralize assassins fleeing in a white van on Constituentes Ave. and Tecnologico in front of the parish of San Judas Tadeo. Credit: EN Honor a Mi país México

A feared elite unit of the National Defense Secretariat (Sedena), the Dragones Urbanos (Urban Dragons), has a history of killing criminals during altercations and occasionally extrajudicially, mostly in the state of Tamaulipas. Just on Wednesday night, it was reported that five purported members of the Cártel del Noreste (Northeast Cartel) tried to ambush the troops and were killed by members of this elite unit of the Mexican army.

The Dragones Urbanos' sinister past (Urban Dragoons)

Colonel Miguel Angel Ramirez Canchola, who led the Dragones Urbanos of the Sixteenth Motorized Cavalry Regiment in Nuevo Laredo, was removed from his position on October 22 of last year by the Secretary of National Defense (Sedena), who is suspected of ordering extrajudicial murders.

On January 16, 2020, the colonel arrived in the border city. When he took the oath of office that day, he promised the media that "we will always respect the citizens' human rights." The operation of the Sixteenth Regiment, however, is under scrutiny by the families of victims who lost their lives during military operations and whose cases are being reported to and looked into by the National Human Rights Commission and the Attorney General's Office.

Two investigation files have been established by the Attorney General's Office (FGR) for extrajudicial killings carried out under the direction of Colonel Miguel Angel Ramirez Canchola.

The first incident, in which the military officer is charged, happened on July 3. A video that was published by the daily El Universal shows military soldiers around a pick-up truck while someone raises his head. He's alive!" one of the troops exclaims. One responds, "Kill him, screw him!" The Sedena said that 12 civilians, most likely criminals, were slain that day.

According to the Army's version of events, the conflict took place while a military convoy was on patrol and was fired upon by a group of armed civilians. The soldier in charge of one of the vans' machine guns captured the incident on camera as per protocol.

Additionally, the suspected extrajudicial killing of five persons on August 14 in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas' Nueva Era neighborhood, was reported by journalist Alberto Pradilla. Victims' relatives complained to the authorities. They appeared to be armed citizens who were being sought by the military.

At least two of them were apprehended alive and murdered by the military after a shootout. The victims are Juan Alberto Luevanos Orona, Juan Jess López Tinajero, Marcos Alejandro Moreno, Uriel Garca Lerma, and Erik Garca Lerma.

Colonel Miguel Angel Ramirez Canchola was explicitly charged by the relatives with issuing the order to kill the survivors. Following the events, many audios purportedly including the military officer ordering the killing of the injured were shared on social media.

After Ramirez Canchola left office, the killings continued

The suspected gunmen were spotted on July 1 by soldiers from the Dragones Urbanos division driving a green Silverado pickup vehicle, and a pursuit ensued. A shooting occurred after the soldiers caught up with the alleged criminals in the Lomas del Ro neighborhood, according to local media. A civilian was hurt in the crossfire, and three men were murdered. Bullets also struck several nearby vehicles and other civilians.

Some bystanders recorded these incidents on tape and charged the military with killing the alleged gunmen notwithstanding their surrender. A woman who captured the footage yelled, "Let them go, don't shoot them, don't shoot them, please don't shoot them."

On September 23, the SEDENA Dragones Urbanos were conducting ground reconnaissance at about 9:15 p.m. on Friday when a convoy of armed men attempted to ambush them. According to local media, the soldiers were ambushed as they approached the Villas de San Miguel area on the 20th and 22nd streets.

To oppose the onslaught, the soldiers pursued at least three pick-up trucks, but they were only able to catch up with one, in which a criminal known as "El Chiricuazo" and four other alleged hitmen were hiding out and were slain.

Members of SEDENA's Special Forces group Dragones Urbanos neutralized 3 members of CDN-Z.