If you work for a drug cartel, it can be surprisingly hard to get fired for utter incompetence. On the other hand, the easiest way to die a horrible death at the hands of your colleagues is for them to become convinced that you’ve been talking to the cops.
What happens when the bosses decide who’s at fault? How dead are they? And how fast?
While The Netherlands and Belgium haven’t suffered the drug-related violence seen in parts of Latin America, there’s still been plenty of bloodshed. Drug gangs in northern Europe have successfully scattered their hits across countries around the world, which helps them dodge extra police attention. Also: The bodies never surface. Without a body there’s little chance of bringing a criminal case, the police told me.
The nightmarish brutality of such moments shocked Holland in 2020 when Dutch police discovered several sound-proofed shipping containers retrofitted into a prison. One container housed a medical chair along with pliers, scalpels, and blow torches — the instruments of torture.
Fortunately, Dutch police found the macabre facility before it could be put to use. They found it via a phone hack that revealed the identity of the intended victims: a crew associated with the Rotterdam-based Roger “Piet Costa” P, believed to be one of the largest traffickers in the business.
Piet (under Dutch privacy laws, the media can only refer to suspects by their initials or nicknames) believed the crew had a role in the disappearance of several-hundred kilos of cocaine in a 2019 bust in Rotterdam. Piet suspected someone in his crew had talked to the police; to flush out the rat, he commissioned the jail and torture facility, and had begun kidnapping various suspects to question at the time the police busted the operation.
The cops in The Netherlands have, of late, experienced a certain measure of success in cracking encrypted devices used by the cartels. In other instances that we’ll get into down the road, they’ve had less success.
The story of one of Piet’s close colleagues, Naima Jillal, one of the few Moroccan women to play a major role in the Belgian and Dutch drug trade, played out on such a phone.
Jillal, aka Auntie, served as a broker for traffickers in Belgium and Netherlands. According to local reports, she served as a liaison between smugglers, financiers, South American suppliers and the gangs that can move drugs through the major ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam. Her perch within the underworld as a broker gave her access to every aspect of certain drug transfers.
But in 2018 and 2019, Auntie’s access to privileged information reportedly turned her into a target of suspicion for other gangsters. After an early 2019 bust in Rotterdam, the cartel bosses grew concerned that Auntie Jillal may have directed an effort to inform the cop about certain incoming shipments.
On Oct 20, 2019, CCTV in central Amsterdam captured Jillal getting into a black BMW. She has never been seen alive since. Her body has never been found.
Rumors circulated among the Belgian and Dutch underworld about her fate until May 3, when Dutch police issued a warrant and a 75,000-euro reward for information on the whereabouts of "Bolle Jos," the nickname of a trafficker with ties to Piet and Riduan Taghi, a rival of Piet’s. Taghi had been arrested arrested and extradited from his hideout in Dubai in 2019 to Holland for his alleged role in a slew of gruesome drug-related murders and attempted murders Shortly after his arrest, the Dutch police declared Jillal dead.
The warrant for Bolle Jos also clarified why the Dutch cops appeared so certain Jillal was dead. It included the details that authorities had found video footage and photos of Jillal being tortured to death on Taghi’s encypted Blackberry at the time of his arrest.
One Dutch reporter who asked not to be identified because of security concerns surrounding Taghi’s ongoing trial told me a police source had shown them part of the footage. The reporter regrets watching. “This couldn’t be faked,” they said.
Despite the grave consequences Jillal suffered, you might be surprised to learn that completely fucking up a drug shipment — and losing tens of millions of euros in the process — doesn’t automatically mean a death sentence.That’s because in the world of Narcos, good help is hard to find, as Tom Wainwright, a Financial Times reporter who closely covers the cartels, writes in his book Narconomics.
“The people the average drug trafficker deals with – remember most of them are surrounded by a lifetime social circle of morons and criminals – are completely useless,” one Belgian cop told me. “If you have a partner who is a screw up but mostly loyal, a lot of mistakes can be overlooked because any replacement is going to also be a screw up, just not loyal.”
As Wainwright explains, drug kingpins often have no choice but to rely on violent, untrustworthy, testosterone-fueled idiots as enforcers — maybe not so surprising. But even if you doubt whether they can protect a shipment, it’s best to go with the knucklehead you know rather than an unknown commodity, he writes.
Eliminating an unreliable employee is, then, not ideal. But as the Belgian cop said, the drug trade is “a brutal industry where you can never be seen as someone who can be ripped off.” Losing a big shipment can do major reputational harm. Sometimes, the only way to mitigate it is to get rid of the weak link in the chain, often “in the most brutal manner possible to set an example.”
“Whatever horrible things that woman had done in her life, nobody deserves to die like that as every second, every cry of pain and terror recorded for someone’s amusement,” said the reporter, who watched part of the Jillal torture video. “There wasn’t any value to watching it except to know she’s certainly dead.”
And of all the lurid details surrounding the end of Auntie Jillal, that might be the most ghastly of all. The footage found on Taghi’s phone had been forwarded by another trafficker, according to a Dutch police source. In other words, “we aren’t sure Taghi had anything to do with Naima’s murder,” they said. “It might be a case that some other trafficker decided he would find it amusing and forwarded it to him.”
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