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Mexico Security Summary for August 2016

Date of Report: September 14th, 2016

Violence Continues to Surge

As discussed in last month’s report, there has been a steady increase in violence associated with organized crime over the last two years; and especially during the last 6 months.  While the official figures for August are not yet available, July was the most violent month since President Peña Nieto took office in December 2012.  More than 2070 people were killed in July.  Furthermore, the January to July total for 2016 is 16.7% higher than for the same period in 2015.  The violence has been especially prevalent in Baja California, Colima, Jalisco, Guerrero, Michoacán, and Veracruz.  In each of these states the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) has been pushing against territories controlled by rival organizations such as the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas.  Guerrero has been the most violent state and conditions there significantly worsened in July.  Michoacán also showed a significant surge in violence that month.  After several years of calm, Chihuahua (especially Ciudad Juarez) has also become more dangerous as cartels again compete for access to this vital border region.  However, it is Veracruz in particular that has recently experienced levels of violence never seen before.  Part of the issue appears to be the strong linkage between criminal organizations and corrupt state institutions in the state (including the governor’s office).  It is widely known that the Zetas had a friend in governor Fidel Herrera Beltrán until 2010, but that the current governor, Javier Duarte de Ochoa, has closer ties with the CJNG.  These alliances filter all the way down to the municipal level, and end up pulling a wide range of individuals into the conflict between the two cartels.

Conflict at the Highest Levels of the Cartels

In the past, conflict between the major cartels was primarily focused at the street level as they typically killed rival foot soldiers (sicarios), drug street vendors (narcomenudistas), and lookouts (halcones and narcotaxistas).  These operations would sometimes included focused targeting of regional leaders and crime bosses when the opportunity arose.  However, close family members of the highest levels within these organizations were not usually among the victims of a cartel war.  The primary reason was the fact that they benefited from good human intelligence and effective security teams.

However, with the arrest of many leaders within the upper ranks of most major cartels in Mexico these organizations are highly fragmented and internal allegiances are highly volatile.  Also, it appears that the security teams protecting key elements in these organizations are having difficulty adapting to the constantly changing security landscape.  If they are not targeted by authorities, they are under constant threat from rival groups.  Several interesting examples of this new dynamic came to the surface this month.

The most obvious case occurred in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco.  Gunmen stormed an upscale restaurant in the city and kidnapped 16 patrons.  Reports indicate that one of those kidnapped was Jesús Alfredo Guzmán Salazar (the son of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán), and that the operation was carried out by the Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG).  He was reportedly released unharmed a few days later.  Unconfirmed reports also indicated that two other sons (Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar and César Guzmán Salazar) had been kidnapped during the same incident.  In a different attack, a nephew of “El Mayo” Zambada García (the presumed leader of the Sinaloa Cartel) was killed in Culiacán, Sinaloa. A second nephew was killed the following day.

Sometimes it’s Tough Being the President

August was a difficult month for President Peña Nieto.  In addition to increasing evidence that the security situation has worsened over the last year, he was widely criticized for inviting U.S. Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump to Mexico for a one-on-one meeting.  Most observers had difficulty understanding what possible benefit he could have gained from such an encounter.  It is also difficult to imagine that the popularity of President Peña Nieto could be further damaged, but it appears that was the case.  Also, during August it was confirmed that significant portions of his law school thesis were plagiarized; including from documents written by former president Miguel de la Madrid.  Both the visit by Donald Trump and the claims of plagiarism accentuate the perception that Peña Nieto is inadequately prepared to lead the country in these troubled times.  Also, following a damning report by the Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos (CNDH) concerning possible police execution of 22 suspected cartel gunmen in Tanhuato (Michoacán) in May 2015, Peña Nieto was forced to fire Enrique Galindo, the chief of the federal police.

Attacks against Governmental Authority

There were 39 attacks directed at government authorities reported during August. This figure is a significant drop from the 57 attacks reported in July.  However, it is still higher than most months in 2015.  There were 11 assassinations of government or political party officials this month.  The high number of assassinations follows the trend set in May; with at least 11 reported each month since then.  Also, the average of these four months is double the average of the last three years.  This may indicate a new “normal” level that involves sustained attacks against political authorities; even during non-election months.

Among the victims this month were two mayors.  In one case, the mayor was ambushed and killed in Huehuetlán el Grande, Puebla.  In another, the mayor was ambushed and killed in Pungarabato, Guerrero.  Also, the former mayor was reportedly kidnapped in Villa Aldama, Veracruz.  The former mayor was kidnapped and murdered in El Rosario, Sinaloa.  The former mayor was kidnapped and murdered in Chikindzonot, Yucatan.

The state director of Recursos Materiales, Servicios y Adquisiciones de la Oficialía Mayor de Gobierno de Tlaxcala (OMG) was kidnapped on July 28th.  His body was discovered in late August in Ixtapaluca, Edomex.  A city council member was reported missing in Erongarícuaro, Michoacán.  The regional leader of the Movimiento de Regeneración Nacional (MORENA) was kidnapped and murdered in Manzanillo, Colima.  A delegate of the Confederación Revolucionaria de Obreros Campesinos (CROC) was murdered in Moloacán, Veracruz.  A PAN party activist was kidnapped and murdered in Chicontepec, Veracruz.

There were also 4 instances of failed attacks against elected or party officials.  For example, gunmen ambushed a vehicle transporting the mayor of Cuautempan (Puebla) while she was traveling near Zapotlanejo, Jalisco.  While she was not injured, her husband was killed in the attack.  In another incident, gunmen attacked security guards affiliated with the mayor in Soledad de Doblado, Veracruz.  Elsewhere, the mayor’s bodyguard was gunned down in Poza Rica, Veracruz.

Figure 1:  Attacks against Authorities by Month λ

hx-mex-aug-2016-1

Note:  These figures should be considered minimum counts as numerous incidents are not reported by the media or government officials.

λ President Peña Nieto took office on December 1, 2012 (columns in red).

At least 23 police or military personnel were killed in these attacks this month.  In one case, the chief of police was ambushed and killed in Tiquicheo, Michoacán.  The former chief of police was gunned down in Cajeme, Sonora.  A police commander was gunned down in the market in Celaya, Guanajuato.  A retired marine admiral was ambushed and killed near Córdoba, Veracruz.  Assailants on a motorcycle gunned down two municipal police officers in Naucalpan, Edomex.  Also, in two separate incidents, 6 transit police officers were kidnapped in Boca del Río, Veracruz.  Two officers were subsequently released.

Five army patrols were attacked this month in Michoacán and Tamaulipas (4).  In one case, a soldier was killed during an ambush of an army patrol in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.  A soldier was also killed when gunmen fired on an army patrol in Parácuaro, Michoacán.

There were no reported attacks directed against federal police patrols this month.  However, three state police patrols were attacked in Guerrero, Tabasco, and Tamaulipas.  The worst incident occurred when three state police officers were killed during an ambush in General Heliodoro Castillo, Guerrero.  Five state police officer were injured during an attack on their patrol in Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas.  There was also a fatal attack in Tabasco.

Four municipal police patrols were attacked as well.  These occurred in Guanajuato (2), Guerrero, and Oaxaca.  In total, three attacks resulted in police fatalities.  In one case, a female municipal police officer was gunned down while on patrol in Celaya, Guanajuato.

There were also several attacks against fixed targets.  The most significant occurred when gunmen fired on a state police station in Acapulco, Guerrero.  Also, a municipal police car was destroyed by the placement of a pyrotechnic device in Oaxaca, Oaxaca.

Several family members of authorities were targeted this month.  For example, the son of the former mayor was murdered in Cuitláhuac (Veracruz), and the brother of a municipal official was executed in Lázaro Cárdenas (Michoacán).  Finally, a journalist with the La Opinión de Poza Rica was murdered in Poza Rica, Veracruz.

Geographic Pattern of Attacks

These attacks occurred across 15 states (Baja California, Colima, Edomex, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Puebla, Sinaloa, Sonora, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Yucatán).  The number of states is similar to the previous three months.  However, it is 12% higher than the average of the last two years.

Table 1: States Hit Hardest by Attacks on Authorities.

States Number of Attacks
Veracruz 9
Tamaulipas 5
Guerrero 5
Michoacán 4

Progress?

Five key operatives or regional leaders of major criminal organizations were reportedly arrested during August.  This figure is the lowest since April, and it is less than half the average of the last two years.  Three of those apprehended in August were members of the Zetas.  The most important was Luis Reyes Enríquez “Z12” or “El Rex”, one of the original founders of the Zetas. He was captured in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo León.  Other Zetas arrested included Omar Escalona Barradas “El Cachorro”, a regional leader in Orizaba (Veracruz), and José Luis González Moreno “El Boss”, a regional leader in Charcas (San Luis Potosí).  Currently, the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) is the most violent of the major cartels, and authorities were able to capture Sergio Kurt Schmidt Sandoval “La Pistola”, a key financial operative of the organization.  Finally, David Garza Ávila or Elías Garza García “El M-19”, a key financial operative of the Gulf Cartel was captured in Naucalpan, Edomex.

Numerous government officials (mostly at the municipal level) were arrested for involvement with organized criminal groups or other crimes.  For example, five federal police officers were arrested with stolen vehicles and weapons near Tapachula, Chiapas.  Also, municipal police officers arrested five Pemex security personnel who were in the process of extracting stolen fuel from a pipeline near Juan Rodríguez Clara, Veracruz.  An EMS technician was arrested on extortion charges in Monterrey.

Mexican federal authorities seized weapons and munitions at 4 sites across DF, Michoacán, and Veracruz.  Both of the sites in Michoacán contained fragmentation grenades, and one of them had a 40mm grenade launcher.  The site in DF had uniforms of the Federal Police.

In an interesting case of misinformation, the federal police announced the seizure of 100 rounds of “anti-aircraft” ammunition in a package at the Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México (AICM).  The reality is that they were merely 30.06 caliber, which is a typical deer hunting round, rather than those which are used against aircraft.  It made for good propaganda though.

Street Battles (Enfrentamientos)

There were 44 street battles reported during August.  This figure is similar to July, and it is right at the average for the last two years.  They occurred in 9 states (Baja California, Edomex, Guerrero, Michoacán, Nuevo León, Sonora, Tabasco, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz).  In terms of the number of states impacted, that figure is also near the average of the last two years.

Table 2: States Hit Hardest by Street Battles.

States Number of Battles
Tamaulipas 17
Veracruz 16
Michoacán 4

Hazardous Overland Travel

There have also been increased reports of armed robbers forcing their way onto buses along Highway 2 between Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa, Tamaulipas.  Also, passengers were robbed by gunmen on an Ómnibus de México as it traveled along the Monterrey-Reynosa highway (Highway 40) near the Burgos Pemex facility in Tamaulipas.  Reports indicate that two women were also kidnapped from the bus by the assailants.  Three gunmen robbed passengers on a Mexico City-Puebla bus near San Martín Texmelucan, Puebla.  Bus passengers were robbed in Juchitán de Zaragoza, Oaxaca.  A woman was shot in the ear by gunmen during a bus robbery in Atizapan de Zaragoza, Edomex.  In contrast, a passenger shot and killed two robbers on a city bus in Naucalpan, Edomex.  Elsewhere, another robber was killed by passengers on a bus near Paso de Ovejas, Veracruz.  Also, several passengers were able to overpower a robber on a bus in Banderilla, Veracruz.

Narcobloqueos (Illegal Street Blockades)

  • August 3 – Matamoros, Tamaulipas

Violence

When the figures are finally released by authorities they will likely reveal that somewhere close to 2000 people were killed this month across Mexico, and approximately half of these were the direct result of organized crime.  Meanwhile, our data reveals that at least 75 people were killed in attacks directed against civilians in ostensibly public venues such as restaurants, bars, repair shops, a bus station, a car lot, a church, a medical clinic, a hair salon, a special events center, and a Wal-Mart.

There were at least 34 such attacks this month.  Both the number of attacks and the number of victims are lower than July.  However, they are similar to the average of late 2015 into early 2016.  These attacks occurred in 15 states (Baja California, Baja California Sur, Chihuahua, DF, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Puebla, Quintana Roo, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz).  Most of the incidents were in Guerrero, Michoacán, and Veracruz.

Many of the attacks were directed at bars.  For example, an employee was killed when gunmen fired into a bar in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.  A second attack on a bar in the same city a few minutes later resulted in another fatality and three injuries.  In a separate attack, a waitress was killed when gunmen fired into a bar in Monterrey, Nuevo León.  Five people were killed when gunmen attacked a bar in Eduardo Neri, Guerrero. Two women were also kidnapped from the scene.  Three people were killed by gunmen in a bar in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz.  A woman was kidnapped from that bar as well.  Also, while not tabulated in the current category, three people were kidnapped from a bar in Monclova, Coahuila.  Their bodies were later discovered along a highway on the outskirts of the city.

Gunmen entered a medical clinic and killed several people in Veracruz, Veracruz.  Three people (including a 15-year-old boy) were gunned down on a street in Delegación Gustavo A. Madero of Mexico City.  Gunmen entered a church during a mass and killed one of the congregation in Acapulco, Guerrero.  A woman was critically injured by gunmen in downtown Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca.  A 13-year-old and a 14-year-old girl were both injured by gunmen traveling on a motorcycle while walking home from school in Topolobampo, Sinaloa.

Evidence indicates that at least 900 additional people were killed as a result of organized crime across Mexico this month.  There were also many cases where there is no clear relationship between the victims and the perpetrators.  For example, the director of the Taller de Mantenimiento Civil for the Complejo Petroquímico Morelos in Coatzacoalcos (Veracruz) was ambushed and killed while driving in the city.  He is the fourth key official of the plant killed under similar circumstance in the last 9 months.  One of the other victims was the director of human resources with the facility.

Elsewhere, the body of a Pemex employee was found near Cosealacaque, Veracruz.  A Notary Public who was an associate of the governor was gunned down in Chihuahua, Chihuahua.  An assistant to another Notary Public was ambushed and killed in Ciudad Juarez.  A doctor was gunned down in Pénjamo, Guanajuato.  A patient who was recovering from a gunshot wound was later stabbed to death inside a hospital in Culiacán, Sinaloa.  The former coordinator of the Miss World México pageant was gunned down in Culiacán, Sinaloa.

At least 14 taxi drivers were murdered this month.  These incidents occurred across Guerrero, Michoacán, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, and Veracruz.  In one case, gunmen opened fire on a taxi in Veracruz.  The driver was kidnapped from the vehicle, while the female passenger died from gunshot wounds sustained during the attack.

Also, mass deposits of victims’ bodies were found at 59 different locations across 13 states (Chihuahua, Coahuila, DF, Edomex, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Puebla, Sinaloa, and Veracruz).  Most of these were in Guerrero and Veracruz.  These sites contained the remains of at least 166 people.  The total number of victims in these 59 sites is lower than the last three months.  However, according to recent excavations conducted by authorities, there may be upwards of 30 additional sites in Veracruz; especially near Tlalixcoyan.

Continuing the trend, at least 28 of these victims had either been decapitated, dismembered, or both.  Their remains were dumped at 21 sites across 7 states (Edomex, Guerrero, Michoacán, Puebla, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz).  In one case, three dismembered bodies were deposited in front of the governor’s office in Chilpancingo, Guerrero.  The missing three heads were found near an army base in the same city.  In an unrelated incident, two men were beat to death with stones in Acapulco, Guerrero.

There were also 50 individual cases were women were targeted by these groups.  They were either killed near their homes, in public venues, or their remains were found across 16 states (Baja California, Chiapas, Chihuahua, DF, Edomex, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Hidalgo, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nuevo León, Oaxaca, Puebla, Sinaloa, Tamaulipas, and Veracruz).

In one case, the decapitated head of a woman was found on a street corner in Nezahualcóyotl, Edomex.  The dismembered trunk of another woman was found in a sewage canal in Acapulco, Guerrero.  The head of a teenage girl was found in Chalco, Edomex.  The bodies of three women were found in a water well in Morelos Cañada, Puebla.  The headless body of a woman was found floating in Acapulco Bay.

An 18-year-old woman was ambushed and killed while driving near Mocorito, Sinaloa.   Gunmen opened fire on a vehicle transporting three female soccer players in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua.  The driver died, while one of her companions was critically injured.

The nude and beaten body of a Colombian model was found on a street in Colonia Nápoles of Mexico City.  The bodies of teenage girls were found in Ecatepec and Tultitlán, Edomex.  In both cases they had been sexually assaulted.  There have been 157 such femicides in that part of the state thus far in 2016.  Also, at least 57 women have been murdered in Puebla in 2016.

Also of significance, at least 8 people were killed when gunmen attacked a village and pulled residents from their homes in Alto Lucero, Veracruz.  In a different attack, seven people were reportedly kidnapped by a group of gunmen in a small rural community in the municipio of Salamanca, Guanajuato.  Five farmers were ambushed and killed while driving near Heliodoro Castillo, Guerrero.

Selected Vigilante Incidents

In an effort to stem recent violence a new autodefensa group was formed in Minatitlán, Veracruz.  Postings on social media also announced the presence of another new vigilante group called the “Escuadrón de la Muerte” in Paraíso, Tabasco.  The group claims to be targeting burglars and thieves plaguing businesses in the city.  Other examples of vigilante justice this month include:

  • August 2 – two accused truck hijackers were severely beaten by residents near Ecatepec, Edomex.
  • August 3 – residents prevented the murder of a soldier in Cárdenas, Tabasco.
  • August 8 – five pollsters with Simo Consulting were severely beaten by residents who thought they might be thieves in Villa Ignacio Zaragoza, Tabasco.
  • August 9 – residents chased a vehicle used by an individual who had kidnapped a teenage girl in Cárdenas, Tabasco. The kidnapper was severely beaten and was eventually taken into custody by the authorities.
  • August 17 – residents attempted to lynch an accused thief in Izúcar de Matamoros, Puebla.
  • August 22 – residents beat an accused cell phone thief in Ciudad Madero, Tamaulipas.
  • August 22 – residents detained an accused robber in Oaxaca, Oaxaca.
  • August 31 – three people were injured by gunfire when merchants attempted to capture two thieves near La Merced in Mexico City.

Extortion, Kidnapping, and Armed Robbery

Extortion

There were 9 confirmed cases of fatal attacks related to extortion operations during August.  This number is less than half of what was reported for each of the least three months.  In fact, it is 44% lower than the average of the last three years.  These incidents occurred in Guerrero, Michoacán, Oaxaca, and Veracruz; with most of them in Veracruz and Michoacán.  Among the victims this month were the owners, managers, or employees of bars, restaurants, a pharmacy, a car dealership, and a hair salon.  There was also a non-fatal attack on a tortilla delivery man in Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca.  As previously discussed, even the tortilla industry has been impacted heavily by extortion operations; especially in Guerrero.

Kidnapping

Authorities reported the disruption of 15 kidnapping operations in August.  This figure is significantly lower than July, but is still on par with most months of 2015.  These were located in Edomex, Michoacán, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tabasco (2 operations), Tamaulipas (2), Veracruz (7).  Seventeen people were rescued from a kidnapping operation in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.  Authorities also discovered a corpse in the home.  Three kidnap victims were rescued by authorities at one of the sites in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz.  One of those rescued was a cattle rancher from Minatitlán. A 20-year-old secretary was arrested and charged for involvement in the kidnapping and murder of several individuals in San Fernando, Tamaulipas.

Also, a Pemex employee was freed after a ransom payment in Linares, Nuevo León.  In another case, a pregnant woman was injured when her kidnappers released her by throwing her down a hillside into garbage dump in Acapulco, Guerrero.  On August 8th two gunmen entered an equipment rental business in Amozoc, Puebla.  In their attempt to rob the establishment they stole a 9-month-old baby from her mother who was working behind the counter.   While an Amber Alert was issued, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of 300,000 pesos. The baby was released 12 days later following a renegotiated ransom of 150,000 pesos.

Six miners were kidnapped from the Beneficiadora de Minerales Temixco mine near Arcelia, Guerrero.  The actual kidnapping occurred in nearby Ajuchitlán del Progreso, and their whereabouts remains unknown.

A prominent businessman was reportedly kidnapped in Veracruz.  A businessman was kidnapped in Tehuacán, Puebla.  His body was discovered a few days later after his family had paid a ransom in Palmar de Bravo, Puebla.  Another prominent businessman was kidnapped in Tezuitlán, Puebla.  The owner of a restaurant was kidnapped in Mazatlán, Sinaloa.  A businessman was kidnapped and murdered in Minatitlán, Veracruz.  Another businessman was kidnapped and murdered in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz.  An assistant to a Notary Public was kidnapped from their office in Acayucan, Veracruz.

The son of the owner of a regional media company (El Dictamen, La Primerísima de San Andrés Tuxtla) was kidnapped while driving along the Tinaja-Córdoba highway Highway 150 near Cotaxtla, Veracruz.  A 12-year-old boy was kidnapped by several gunmen while he was riding in a vehicle driven by his mother in Coatzacoalcos.  He was released after his family paid an undetermined ransom.  Elsewhere, the son of a well-known businessman was kidnapped in Tuxtepec, Oaxaca.  The teenage daughter of a businessman was kidnapped in Jáltipan, Veracruz.  Two teenage boys were kidnapped in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz.  The kidnappers demanded 20,000 pesos, and after the family was unable to pay the ransom they were killed.  A 16-year-old girl was kidnapped off a street in broad daylight in Tecámac, Edomex.  A woman was kidnapped, raped, and murdered in Mapastepec, Chiapas.  A well-known hair stylist was killed during an attempted kidnapping in Monterrey, Nuevo León.  Two employees of the Servicio de Administración Tributaria (SAT) were reportedly kidnapped in Tlatlaya, Edomex.  A Pemex employee was shot and killed while another one was kidnapped in Coatzacoalcos, Tabasco.

Armed Robbery

Overland transport of commercial goods are prime targets for armed robbery and hijacking operations.  This month, there were several reports of tractor-trailer rigs being stolen.  In one case, a state police officer was killed while protecting a truck transportation cigarettes along the Maravatío-Zinapécuaro highway near Francisco Villa, Michoacán.  The driver of a Bimbo delivery truck was killed during a robbery as he traveled along the Cosoleacaque-La Tinaja highway near Acayucan, Veracruz.  The driver of a tractor-trailer rig was murdered along the Córdoba-Veracruz highway near La Primavera, Veracruz.  A truck driver was intercepted and shot to death along Highway 200 near Pinotepa Nacional, Oaxaca.  A truck driver was killed by gunmen while traveling along the Mexico City-Puebla highway (150).  In a separate attack another driver was injured by assailants along the same road near KM 92.  A truck hijacking ring was disbanded by authorities in Monterrey, Nuevo León.  Two stolen DHL delivery trucks were recovered by authorities in Morelia, Michoacán.

At least four banks were reported robbed in Michoacán, Tabasco, and Veracruz.  A state police officer working as a guard was killed during a bank robbery in Cunduacán, Tabasco.  Gunmen robbed the offices of the Secretaría de

Política Social (Sepsol) in Morelia, Michoacán.  Gunmen robbed patrons in the El Portón restaurant in Veracruz City.  A driver was shot and killed during an attempted carjacking in the market area of Veracruz, Veracruz.  A mother was killed in front of her 5-year-old daughter during an armed robbery in Chimalhuacán, Edomex.

Attacks on Authorities (August 2016)

hx-mex-aug-2016-2


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