One of the world's most secretive movements is taking aim at a just as clandestine mafia, right out in the open.
Bloggers and tweeters claiming to belong to the hacker movement "Anonymous" say they plan to expose collaborators of Mexico's bloody Zetas drug cartel, even if some of them seem to have backed away from the plan out of fear.
Their debate is playing out on chatboards, websites and Twitter messages, many of them open to public view.
But just what they might do, as a claimed Friday deadline approaches, remains unclear, perhaps even to the loosely coordinated Internet community. Its participants generally hide their real-world identities even from one another, partly as protection from officials and prosecutors who often consider them outlaws.
Self-proclaimed members of a movement best known for hacking public corporate and government websites are now talking about attacking a drug cartel that largely shuns the Internet and has killed, even beheaded, ordinary bloggers for posting information about it.
"The problem is, hack what? There are no drug cartel websites, that I know of, that would be hackable," said Raul Trejo, an expert on media and violence at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
In an Internet video posted last month, a person wearing a Guy Fawkes mask claimed the Zetas had kidnapped a member of Anonymous in the state of Veracruz while he was handing out political pamphlets. The video doesn't give the victim's name, and prosecutors say they know nothing about the supposed abduction.
The speaker in the video said that if the kidnap victim is not released, Anonymous will post the names, photos and addresses of taxi drivers, police, journalists and others allegedly working with the Zetas. He did not say how the movement would get such information, but suggested it can locate and blow up cartel associates' "cars, houses, bars and whorehouses" starting Friday.
"It won't be difficult, we all know who you are and where you can be found," said the masked speaker.
But members of Anonymous are more of a volunteer crowd, and generally don't even know where their own colleagues can be found. The participants are known more for sabotaging websites than for WikiLeaks-style exposes.
Anonymous-style videos from Veracruz have been posted on the Internet for at least two months, but none before has drawn as much attention, and none of the others threatened violence, or promised to take on a drug cartel.
"What the video is announcing is not hacking, but rather much more violent acts," Trejo said.
Some tweeters using the threat's OpCartel hashtag said the whole idea is too dangerous to carry out.
"They denounced the op after safety concerns. They thought about it and saw it was too dangerous," posted a tweeter under the name GeneralSec. "DragnDon" tweeted back: "The fear that surrounds this idea is astounding. Fairweather revolutionaries?"
Fear would be well-founded. In September, police in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo found a woman's decapitated body alongside a handwritten sign saying she was killed in retaliation for postings on a social networking site. The message was signed with a "Z," the Zetas' trademark.
Earlier that month, the bodies of a man and a woman were found hanging from an overpass in Nuevo Laredo with a message threatening, "this is what will happen" to troublemaking Internet users.
"Are we afraid? Clearly so. Do we fear for our lives? Obviously. Notwithstanding that, we think it is time to say 'enough,'" according to a statement from the purported organizers posted on the website Anonymous IberoAmerica. "We will go ahead with the operation, because people have asked us to."
The movement, if it is one, may have more success than did the bloggers in Nuevo Laredo, who posted information on drug cartel shootouts and safehouses under online aliases. Somehow, and nobody has yet said how, the Zetas apparently found out their real identities.
The Anonymous IberoAmerica website says it will form a "special task force" by invitation only to find out and publish information about cartel collaborators, a potentially deadly undertaking since rivals often kill identified members of the Zetas.
The website even included a series of security steps, such as urging members to send messages through a proxy server, and never to identify themselves as part of Anonymous.
The page also offers a supposedly secure widget to help protect users.
So far only one act has been attributed to the group: It apparently created a website decorated with jack o' lanterns that accuses a former state prosecutor of being a Zeta.
Perhaps the most telling detail is that the Anonymous IberoAmerica site is now soliciting anonymous tips on cartel collaborators. That suggests that, if the promised revelations materialize, they could be nothing more than common rumors or gossip sent in by tipsters or foes of those named.
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