Tune in to “AC360º” tonight at 8 ET for more details on the ‘Anonymous’ threat.
NEW: Analyst: Anonymous battling Zetas is like "the Werewolf vs. Frankenstein"
An online video purportedly from Anonymous threatens the Zetas
The video says the group will release names and addresses of cartel supporters
An Anonymous source says members have discussed targeting the Zetas
Could a Mexican drug cartel be the next target for a group of hackers known for online attacks against banks and government institutions?
A video purportedly from the international hacker ring Anonymous threatens the Zetas, warning that the names, photographs and addresses of cartel supporters can be published “if necessary.”
“We cannot defend ourselves with a weapon,” a masked man says. “But we can do this with their cars, homes, bars and whatever else they possess. It will not be difficult. All of us know who they are and where they are located.”
The man, wearing a suit and tie, claims the notoriously violent drug gang has kidnapped an Anonymous associate in the Mexican state of Veracruz.
“We demand his release,” says the man, who uses Mexican slang but speaks Spanish with a Castilian accent.
It’s unclear whether Anonymous is behind the October 6 video, which does not mention a victim’s name or provide details about the alleged abduction. The hacking group has no clear leader, and no official website.
“One thing that’s important to remember is that Anonymous is not an organization. It does not have a hierarchy. Basically it’s a collective of people who self-identify,” said Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical intelligence for the STRATFOR global intelligence firm. “Not everybody agrees and not everybody participates.”
Stewart said the video “absolutely” appears authentic.
“It’s part of the dynamic we’ve been watching with Anonymous activities in Mexico,” he said, noting that the video was similar to others the group has released and expresses similar sentiments. “It seems like they’re speaking up as the voice of those people who are in fear.”
In recent months, Anonymous has claimed responsibility for “paperstorm” campaigns, dropping fliers accusing officials in the Mexican state of Veracruz of corruption and connections with cartels.
The video purportedly posted by Anonymous this month says the alleged abduction occurred during a “paperstorm” campaign.
An Anonymous source told CNN that there were discussions about three weeks ago in Anonymous’ main online chat portal that suggested that members based in Mexico were going to target the Zetas.
The source said that Anonymous Mexican members claimed in online discussions to have information about politicians in Mexico who were corrupt and working with the Zetas. Anonymous members in Mexico appeared, based on their portal chats, to want to make this information available online, the source said.
On Monday, a Facebook page purportedly connected with a Latin America branch of Anonymous said the attack targeting the Zetas had been put on hold because of security and political concerns.
“We are searching for alternative actions,” said the post on The Anonymous Link’s page. CNN was unable to independently verity the website’s claim.
It’s too soon to tell whether Anonymous, which normally uses Internet attacks to disrupt website traffic, can combat the ruthless violence of drug cartels, Stewart said.
“This is like one of those 1950s horror movies, the Werewolf versus Frankenstein. They’re incompatible creatures that do warfare in different ways,” Stewart said.
Even if members of Anonymous use virtual weapons, he said, they could sustain real-life wounds.
“If they get identified as part of this, they could be beheaded,” he said.
As social media become an increasingly common battleground in Mexico’s drug war, the viral video fueled debate online.
Twitter was abuzz with word of the possible threat Monday, with some posts under the hashtag #OpCartel saying Anonymous had called off its plans to target the Zetas, and others questioning the legitimacy of the video.
“Was the #OpCartel Anonymous Hackers vs. Zetas story a highly publicized hoax?” SYoungReports wrote.
Other Twitter users criticized the group.
“Bits and bytes won’t work against bullets,” said a post on the Twitter account of Angeliner4life. “Don’t be dumb, you are messing with real killers.”
The most common mode of operation for Anonymous is launching distributed denial-of-service attacks, in which multiple people use scripts to access a website repeatedly, slowing it badly or shutting it down, if its servers can’t handle the traffic.
In the past few years, Anonymous has taken credit for disrupting a number of prominent websites, including those of PayPal, Master Card, Visa and the Church of Scientology.
Last month the group claimed it was targeting the Mexican government, launching attacks on a range of official websites, including those of Mexico’s defense and public safety ministries.
Online posts have become some of the loudest voices reporting violence in Mexico. In some parts of the country, threats from cartels have silenced traditional media. Sometimes even local authorities fear speaking out.
Last month attackers left ominous threats mentioning two websites on signs beside mutilated bodies dangling from a bridge in northern Mexico.
The message was clear: Post something we don’t like online and you’re next. “I am about to get you,” one sign said.
It was unclear who the two brutally slain victims were, or whether they had any connection to social media. But analysts said that case showed the prominent role technology has come to play in describing and denouncing violence in Mexico.
CNN’s Ashley Fantz, Doug Gross and CNNMexico.com’s Tania L. Montalvo contributed to this report.