The threatening attack on a Rosario supermarket owned by Lionel Messi's in-laws was intended to "generate intimidation" and "public impact," rather than directly threaten the football star or his family, judicial investigators said Friday.
"It is clear that [the attack] is intended to generate commotion. Beyond the national and international public repercussions, it generates intimidation," Jorge Baclini, Santa Fe Province’s chief prosecutor told the Cadena 3 local radio station.
Rosario, the country's largest export port and the city that records the most murders, had a homicide rate of 22 per 100,000 inhabitants last year – five times higher than the national rate, according to official data.
In other remarks to the press, Baclini said that fellow prosecutor Federico Rébola, who is in charge of the case, "is working with several hypotheses and the investigation is going in the right direction.”
"The objective of the attack was to seek public impact," claimed Rébola. "There is nothing to indicate that they wanted to intimidate or demand anything from the Roccuzzo family. They used something close to Lionel Messi to ensure a lot of coverage. And with that the message reached the whole world," added Rébola.
In the early hours of Thursday morning, two men on a motorbike fired shots at a supermarket belonging to the Único chain, which is owned by the parents of Antonela Roccuzzo, the wife of the Paris Saint-Germain star and recent world champion.
They also left behind a handwritten note that read: "Messi we are waiting for you. Javkin is a narco, he won't look after you" – the latter being a reference to Rosario Mayor Pablo Javkin.
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"The inclusion of the mayor is serious and generates public impact, as does the fact that it is Messi's family, which has international repercussions," Baclini said.
Following the attack, the supermarket opened as normal the next day. "We are fine. We’ve never moved around with security, we lead a normal life," Celia Cuccittini, Messi's mother, told a local journalist, who reported the remarks on Twitter.
Messi normally returns to his native Rosario to spend the Christmas holidays every year and will be back in Argentina soon for Argentina’s upcoming friendly matches on March 23 and 28 in Buenos Aires (against Panama) and Santiago del Estero (against Curaçao).
According to CCTV footage, both attackers were wearing jeans, a hooded jacket and a mask, despite very high temperatures. The individual who fired the bullets that pierced the shop’s metal he perpetrator of the bullets that pierced the metal shutters wore gloves to mask his fingerprints.
Though the incident stunned many, it has become commonplace in some neighbourhoods of Rosario for gunmen to shoot at shops or houses in drive-by attacks. Back in January, assailants even fired shots at the Criminal Justice Centre in Rosario city centre.
Javkin said he doubted a drug-gang was behind this latest attack. "Permit me to have doubts. Here there is no request for money, there is no request for anything for anyone's benefit. It is absolutely different. When there have been drug[-related] attacks, the messages are always determined with a threat to generate a benefit for someone who is detained," he said.
In Rosario there are "small criminal organisations that are growing in size: they begin with drug micro-trafficking and diversify into other criminal activities, one of them being shootings, extortion and robbery," Baclini explained.
Left-wing provincial deputy Carlos del Frade attributes the increase in violence over the last 20 years to the existence of "neighbourhood narco-police gangs," which he said were different from the big cartels "like the Medellín cartel in Colombia or the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico.”
In Rosario, reports of extortion attempts against businesses are on the rise, with the plots often masterminded from prisons, according to the justice system.
On Friday, authorities carried out a raid on the Coronda prison in nearby San Jerónimo. At least 50 mobile phones and 275 doses of drugs were seized on Friday.
Other raids were carried out in prisons in Buenos Aires Province where members of the ‘Los Monos’ gang, the largest criminal organisation in Rosario, are being held.
by Liliana Samuel, AFP