Executive Protection Academy

Executive Protection Academy

Restaurants: the new "favorite" place for hired assassins Five keys to reduce risks in public establishments

In 2020, Aristoteles Sandoval, former governor of the State of Jalisco, Mexico, was murdered in the bathroom of a bar in Puerto Vallarta. In 2022, Salvador Llamas, former director of Seapal, was executed in a restaurant in Guadalajara. In 2023, the police commander of Zapopan, Jalisco, was killed in a cafeteria. In February 2024, two hitmen killed a mining businessman in a restaurant in Aguascalientes and a few days later, lawyer Bernardo Aguirre was executed in the restaurant of a luxury hotel in Monterrey.

In all these cases, the attackers posed as customers before carrying out their attacks.

In the day-to-day operations of traditional executive protection, for reasons I cannot explain, protectors considered restaurants as "sacred places", that is, magically protected spaces where no evil influence could penetrate. It was customary to take the executive to the restaurant, determine his seat and wait outside until he came out, believing that nothing would happen to him inside. However, as with many practices in traditional executive protection, this was unfounded, as these unfortunate examples demonstrate.

We can observe that the modus operandi of the assassins is to arrive at the restaurant, sometimes before and sometimes after the victim, sit in a place from where they can have the necessary view and proximity to their target, carry out the aggression when the victim is distracted and escape quickly in vehicles that were already waiting for them.

Here we can identify several flaws in the operational structure:

Intelligence: in several of the cases, there was no clear awareness of the scope of the threat, nor were the intentions and capabilities of the individuals and groups posing the threat known.
2. Counter-intelligence: in several cases, the assassins knew in advance where the victim would be, and this information came from his close circle.
3. Counter-surveillance: in other cases, particularly in the case of the Zapopan police commander, the killers knew the victim's routine, which shows that she was watched by the criminals for a prolonged period of time without realizing it.
4. Situational awareness: in the recent case of the mining businessman, the two killers were seated in the restaurant, at a nearby table, with hats and masks on. It is not possible to eat with masks on, which, together with the caps, evidences that their intention was not to eat, but to hide their identity in order to commit a crime, without attracting anyone's attention.
5. Protective logistics: what is common in all the above cases is that the restaurants, bars and cafeterias where the murders occurred were located in relatively fluid avenues at the times of the attacks, and were establishments easily accessible from the street, which greatly facilitated the escape of the criminals. In planning an attack, having an easy and quick getaway is the most critical and important thing for the criminals, because if the getaway is complicated, the criminal may be shot, wounded or even arrested, which could expose both the material and intellectual authors of the murder, which is the main concern of any criminal group. Therefore, the choice of restaurant is key to reducing risks. It is important to look for a location where the criminals during the escape will be exposed for a prolonged time to the actions of security agents and police, as well as cameras, and where traffic conditions at the given time are not favorable for the escape. This may include shopping malls or other similar locations, depending on the specific circumstances in each case, which must be previously studied. These factors significantly reduce the risks, and it is of utmost importance that the executive is aware of these principles. Since he or she is the one who decides on the locations, it is important that they are informed about the impact this has on their protection system. In addition, the location where the protégé is to sit should be one that is out of sight and out of the way, and should also allow for easy escape. In this type of threat, the protectors should be strategically placed on the table(s) that will allow observation and, if necessary, cover and evacuation of the protégé.

It is no longer enough to just take the protégé to lunch and wait for him or her outside the establishment. Threats have changed and so must the way we operate in order to make our profession safer and safer for both protégés and protectors.