POLICE have arrested seven Colombians in Madrid suspected of running a "branch office of hitmen". They believe it was set up to maim and kill members of rival drug cartels and collect debts from the organisation's own drug traffickers.
The ringleader went by the name of "Rabbit" and his deputy was "the Monster". When the order came in to kill, it was coded as: "If they won't pay, send them flowers."
After a sting operation code-named "Achilles" that lasted 16 months, officers from Madrid's Central Organised Crime Brigade moved in on the cell of assassins and seized an arsenal of weapons.
The gang had their headquarters in a Colombian restaurant in a working-class suburb of Madrid, where they met over lunches and dinners.
There, they planned elaborate ruses to snare their victims, sometimes impersonating police officers or doctors. They were found with an array of disguises, including police uniforms, medics' coats and wigs.
Police moved in as the gang took delivery of a cache of weapons from Eastern Europe, including Kalashnikov rifles fitted with silencers, a .357 magnum revolver and a long-range rifle with telescopic lens.
During the raid, officers also seized electronic detonators, explosives and an anti-tank grenade launcher.
Investigators believe the gang was sent to Spain to collect debts and settle scores on behalf of Colombian drug cartels, while also trying to forge an alliance with Mexican traffickers based in Valencia.
It was the first time that police had smashed a squad that had apparently been sent to set up a permanent base in Spain, according to Andres Dieguez, the head of the police's Central Organised Crime Brigade.
Previously, lone hitmen had been sent from Colombia to settle scores and protect the cartels' business in Spain, the main cocaine gateway into Europe. Afterwards, they would return to South America.
The gang were also in possession of containers of acid, which they are suspected of using to destroy the bodies of their victims in order to prevent identification of remains.
Among those arrested were the suspected leader of the cell – who went by the alias 'Conejo', meaning 'Rabbit' – and his right-hand man El Monstro ('the Monster), police said. They have not released the real names of those arrested.
The first man was wanted by Colombian police and was involved in a feud with a rival gang of assassins in Colombia, who are believed to be responsible for killing his brother six months ago and his nephew earlier this month. 'El Monstro' was wanted on an international arrest warrant for other murders in his home country.
According to local media reports, some of the gang were former members of the paramilitary group, United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia.
The gang is also suspected of touting for work from other criminals, for which they offered to kidnap, maim or kill, in return for 50pc of the money owed by the target.
Among the victims was the sister of a drug criminal jailed in Spain who had outstanding debts to a cartel in Colombia. They were ordered to kidnap the woman until the convict could arrange payment. (© Daily Telegraph, London)