Criminal gang thought to be behind Brit millionaire’s kidnap is linked to cannibal Mexican cartel that forces new recruits to eat human hearts
- Los Tiguerones gang is thought to be behind kidnapping of Colin Armstrong
- The feared criminal gang is linked to Mexican cartel that forces cannibalism
A feared criminal gang thought to be behind the kidnapping of a British millionaire is allied to a violent Mexican cartel that forces new recruits to eat human hearts.
The brutal Los Tiguerones gang, whose members identify themselves with tattoos of beret-wearing tigers, had been been identified as key suspects in the kidnapping of Colin Armstrong, 78, before he was rescued in Ecuador today.
Officials were said to have been focusing on the group for allegedly snatching the British businessman and former diplomat after he refused to pay them a monthly protection fee.
A well-placed source quoted in the Daily Telegraph said: ‘It’s the most likely reason for the kidnapping at this point.’
Mr Armstrong was kidnapped from his villa alongside his glamourous girlfriend Katherine Paola Santos by 15 armed men on Saturday morning and was seen being bundled into the back of a car.
During his ordeal, footage of Miss Santos emerged apparently showing bomb disposal police removing a vest ‘filled with explosives’ that her kidnappers allegedly forced her to wear.
On Wednesday Cesar Augusto Zapata Correa, Ecuador’s police chief, tweeted that Mr Armstrong (pictured) had been found on near Manabi not far from Los Rios where he was snatched
The brutal Los Tiguerones gang have been linked to Jalisco New Generation Cartel members (pictured)
Last year it emerged the CJNG gang was forcing new members into cannibalism and had started sharing videos of gang members feasting on the hearts of their enemies
Video footage has since emerged on social media apparently showing his glamourous girlfriend having an explosives vest removed by a bomb disposal expert
Colin Armstrong, 78, and partner Katherine Paola Santos are pictured together in Jamaica
She reportedly said the vest would explode if a ransom wasn’t paid and was being quizzed by investigators yesterday over her kidnapping.
On Wednesday, Cesar Augusto Zapata Correa, Ecuador’s police chief, tweeted that Mr Armstrong had been found on a road near Manabi not far from Los Rios where he was snatched.
Police have confirmed nine suspects have so far been arrested, although they have not officially said whether they belong to Los Tiguerones.
The shadowy gang was a small support unit of Los Choneros, one of the South American country’s oldest organised crime groups, when they first began to be talked about in 2019.
Four years on, the organisation, which in its infancy had just 900 members, has expanded from its birthplace in the northern port city of Ecuador to become a leading player on the national scene as well as in neighbouring Peru.
Los Choneros were allied to El Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel and Los Tiguerones is known to be linked to Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG).
The cartel is a Mexican organised crime syndicate known for its aggressive use of extreme violence.
Last year it emerged the CJNG gang was forcing new members into cannibalism and had started sharing videos of gang members feasting on the hearts of their enemies.
Reports at the time said shocking public displays of aggression were used to threaten rival groups and show dominance.
The brutal Los Tiguerones gang have been linked to Jalisco New Generation Cartel members (pictured)
Colin Armstrong, 78, and partner Katherine Paola Santos are pictured together
In September this year Los Tiguerones was identified as the leading extortion gang in Guayaquil, the nearest large city to the town of Baba close to the ranch where Mr Armstrong kidnapped from along with his partner Katherine Paola Santos.
Los Tiguerones was blamed for 36 per cent of all extortions earlier this year in Ecuador’s Zone 8, covering Guayaquil and nearby Samborondon where Saturday’s release of Ms Santos is said to have taken place.
The glamorous Colombian was released after reportedly being sent to Mr Armstrong’s son’s house with an explosives vest on her which she said would explode if a ransom wasn’t paid.
Earlier this year it emerged Los Tiguerones had also moved beyond Ecuador into Peru and were operating in the northern part of the country’s capital Lima.
Criminals involved in a drugs turf war with the gang were blamed for a bomb blast in August last year in the Guayaquil neighbourhood of Cristo del Consuelo which killed five people and left 17 more injured, although initial reports pointed to Los Tiguerones being behind it.
In recent years Ecuador has become a favoured destination for criminal organisations in Colombia and Peru smuggling the class A drug into the country before shipping it abroad.
The violent fight for control of the lucrative cocaine trafficking trade involving Los Tiguerones has transformed Ecuador, one of the calmest countries in Latin America until just a few years ago.
Police chief Alberto Santamaria has said: ‘Los Tiguerones tattoo a tiger with a beret and stars that represent their hierarchy in that organisation.’
A well-placed source said: ‘Before entering prison inmates identify themselves with tattoos so they don’t get put in a rival wing because they know that if that happens they’re going to die.’
It comes as police rescued Mr Armstrong from his kidnappers. Officers released a picture which showed him wearing a baseball cap, slightly out of focus, as per local law, flanked by two police officers. He appeared fit and well.
In a statement to MailOnline family friend Leo Morris said: ‘We can confirm that Mr Colin Armstrong has successfully been released and is currently with the police having interviews and then will be returning to his Family in Ecuador.
‘All of the UK family, staff and friends are delighted with the outcome and look forward to a happier Christmas.
‘We have no further news at present.’
Mr Armstrong’s son Nick Armstrong, who helps run the family estate in North Yorkshire, had flown to Ecuador to help in the hunt.
The father and son are directors of the 500-acre Tupgill Park Estate near Leyburn in north Yorkshire, which has been the family home for more than 45 years.
Mr Armstrong’s daughter Diana Armstrong-Bruns, an estate agent based in California, had told MailOnline earlier this week following his kidnapping: ‘This is a critical time, we’ve been told not to say anything to anyone. We just want my father back.’
The wealthy businessman was snatched from his ranch called Rancho Rodeo Grande by up to 15 masked men reportedly disguised as police officers before being driven away in their black BMW which was later found abandoned by the roadside.
His glamourous girlfriend was also abducted alongside Mr Armstrong on Saturday. But 24 hours later, she was reportedly seen at the home of his son Nick, in a taxi wearing a bomb vest.
Police were alerted and video footage has since emerged apparently showing Ms Santos having the explosives vest removed by a bomb disposal expert at a property on the private gated estate in Samborondon near Guayaquil.
Ms Santos was yesterday being quizzed by detectives about her kidnapping, apparent release and whether she was forced to wear the bomb vest by Mr Armstrong’s kidnappers so as to demand a ransom from his family.
The couple appear together on a safari holiday in this picture before their reported abduction
Mr Armstrong’s daughter Diana Armstrong-Bruns (pictured), an estate agent based in California, had told MailOnline earlier this week following his kidnapping: ‘This is a critical time, we’ve been told not to say anything to anyone. We just want my father back’
His son Nick Armstrong (right), who helps run the family estate in North Yorkshire, had flown to Ecuador to help in the hunt
Meanwhile, chilling footage posted online showed how the abductors left a blood-stained trail behind after ransacking Mr Armstrong’s remote ranch in the province of Los Rios.
Mr Armstrong headed the British Consulate in the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil and has been honoured by the late Queen for his services to his country.
Video reportedly taken inside the property known as Rancho Rodeo Grande shows the aftermath of the attack.
A woman filming inside the ranch took close-up shots of broken plates on the floor and a man holding his head.
She then walked into one of the bedrooms where there was blood on the bedsheets and the floor.
As she focused in on the stained sheets, she is reported to have said: ‘This is where they hit him. My God what is this!’
The honorary consul’s car, a black BMW the kidnap victims are said to have been driven away in, was reportedly found abandoned on the road between the town of Baba and the nearby town of Salitre.
Local police initially managed to activate satellite tracking of the BMW, which showed it being driven south towards the city of Ecuador, but they lost track of it.
Local reports say British intelligence was involved in the hunt for Colin.
The Foreign Office previously said: ‘We are in contact with the Ecuadorean authorities following the disappearance of a British man and are supporting his family.’
Mr Armstrong owns the 500-acre Tupgill Park Estate in North Yorkshire, which was his childhood home.
The estate now welcomes more than 150,000 visitors a year to an attraction known as the Forgotten Corner which was originally built as a private folly.
Mr Armstrong – who is thought to have previously been married to an Ecuadorian woman – has had a long association with the South America country where he owns Agripac, a large agricultural supply company which he founded in 1972.
Pictures on TikTok show wealthy businessman Colin Armstrong, 78, and partner Katherine Paola Santos enjoying a jet-set lifestyle prior to their kidnapping on Saturday
Mr Armstrong headed the British Consulate in the Ecuadorian port city of Guayaquil and has been honoured by the late Queen for his services to his country
He works there alongside son Nick, who took over the honorary consul role in the city of Guayaquil from his father in 2016 and is also a director of the company which runs Ripon Racecourse in North Yorkshire.
His adopted son Leo Morris helps run a restaurant at the family’s Yorkshire estate.
In recent years Ecuador – situated between world-leading cocaine producers Colombia and Peru – has become a centre for foreign and domestic drug cartels blamed for a series of massacres, kidnappings and extortions.
Gangs now control prisons, and violence in the streets has surged. Since 2018, the national murder rate has more than quadrupled, soaring from six to 26 per 100,000 inhabitants.
As a large port city, Guayaquil has become a centre for the cartels exporting drugs to the United States and Europe.
President Daniel Noboa, a Guayaquil native who took office in late November, has promised to crack down on drug traffickers.
His election followed a campaign season marred by violence in which eight politicians, including a mayor, were killed.
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