'Narco-antennas': Mexican cartel threatens locals with death unless they pay for makeshift Wi-Fi

Split image. Left image: Mexican National Guard officers outside a Narcos compound used to host makeshift Wi-Fi equipment. Right image: A makeshift Wi-Fi antenna created by Mexican Narcos.
The cartel has been accused of profiting by $150,000 each month. Credit: Attorney General's Office of the State of Michoacan

A Mexican cartel has been accused of setting up its own makeshift Wi-Fi service and threatening to kill residents if they refused to pay for the internet it provides.

Although no deaths had been reported, prosecutors in the central Mexican state of Michoacan said the group had profited at great expense from locals, raking in an estimated $150,000 (£118,000) each month.

Some 5,000 people across the state were forced to "contract the internet services at excessive costs, under the claim that they would be killed if they did not", according to prosecutors.

The group has not been officially named due to the case remaining under investigation, but local media have identified Los Viagras as the culprits.

Mexican National Guard officers stand outside a compound used to host makeshift Wi-Fi equipment. Credit: Attorney General's Office of the State of Michoacan

Authorities, last week, seized so-called 'narco-antennas', which had been set up in various towns across the state with stolen equipment.

Photographs of the makeshift antennas were later shared online.

Mexican cartels have long employed a shadowy network of illegal radio and Wi-Fi towers to allow for internal communications amongst criminal gangs.

But the use of such towers to extort communities is part of a larger trend in the country, according to Falko Ernst, Mexico analyst for Crisis Group.

Mexican authorities shared photographs of the makeshift Wi-Fi equipment which was seized. Credit: Attorney General's Office of the State of Michoacan

He said Mexico's cartels no longer focus solely on drug trafficking but are also "becoming de facto monopolists of certain services and other legal markets".

Gangs in some areas are charging taxes on basic foods and imported products, he added.

"It's really become sort of like an all around game for them," he said.

"And it's not specific to any particular good or market anymore. It's become about holding territory through violence."

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