Tide turns for cocaine hit-men: Vigilantes hunt Colombian killers

Click to follow
EVEN without the incongruous Mexican ranchera music crackling from a tape deck, the Munoz Mosquera family mausoleum has a distinctly surreal feel. Buried there are six brothers, all hit-men for the Medellin drugs cartel. All died young and violently over the past five years, shot dead by the security forces or by rival traffickers.

The marble mausoleum in Medellin's central San Pedro cemetery has become something of a local tourist attraction since the sixth and most famous brother, Brance Munoz Mosquera, 33, known as 'Tyson' for his heavy build, lost an uneven gun battle with police in October. His tomb takes pride of place. Multi-coloured plastic flowers flank the inscription: 'Brance Alexander Munoz Mosquera, rested in the arms of the Lord on the 28th day of October 1992. Son, though you have gone, you will always continue in my heart. Lilia.' The latter is the brothers' mother, a devout Catholic. Their father, a retired policeman, is now a part-time preacher.

Although a seventh brother, Dandenis Munoz, alias 'Quica', is in a New York jail for entering the United States on false papers and is wanted in Colombia for various cartel 'hits', he, too, announced recently he had 'found Jesus' in jail and renounced the cartel's crimes. 'They're really good neighbours, a fine family. It's a shame,' a visitor from the city's Boston district said as she stood by the tomb.

The ranchera music, it seems, was Tyson's favourite during the years he served as head of the Medellin cartel's military wing, as senior hit-man to Pablo Escobar, the fugitive drug baron. Police believe he arranged two of Colombia's most horrific terrorist attacks of recent years, the 1989 bomb that blew up an airliner in mid-air, killing all 107 aboard, and the destruction of the DAS Security Police headquarters in Bogota the same year.

The brothers were typical of the young men from Medellin's poor hillside barrios who begin as teenage sicarios (hit-men) and, if successful and trustworthy, work their way up within the cartel. Despite the tightening noose around Escobar now, the hunted cocaine baron's self-projected image as a social revolutionary, plus his hard cash, ensure he still has little trouble finding young men prepared to murder in his name.

With their trademark motorcycles and favoured Beretta 9mm automatic pistols, the sicarios have been lying relatively low since the anti-Escobar vigilante group known as Los Pepes began seeking them out and killing them earlier this year. In February, at a popular, flower-bedecked petrol station on the airport road, seven alleged sicarios were 'executed' by 15 members of Los Pepes using automatic rifles.

But if the sicarios are lying low, it is, indeed, relative. On Monday last week, police found the bodies of six men in the boots of three stolen taxis. Motive? Not yet known. The previous day, nine men were shot dead by hit-men in two separate attacks in the city. Motive? Not yet known. In Medellin, it was just another weekend.