Another protected witness dies in Mexico

AP News
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Posted: Dec 01, 2009 7:41 PM

Gunmen burst in to a Starbucks coffee shop Tuesday and killed a former policeman who was a protected witness in a drug corruption case, the second death of a high-profile witness in Mexico in less than two weeks.

Edgar Bayardo was gunned down in the upper middle-class Del Valle neighborhood of the capital, and a man with him was severely wounded, city prosecutor Jaime Slomianski Aguilar said. Another customer who apparently had nothing to do with Bayardo also was wounded.

Shell casings _ numbered by police at up to 23 _ lay on the shop floor between the door and the counter. The killing bore all the hallmarks of an organized crime execution.

Two assailants entered the shop and, without saying a word, opened fire on Bayardo with an automatic weapon, authorities said. They fled with a third accomplice in a waiting vehicle that the attackers abandoned a few blocks away.

"By the methods used ... this falls outside the realm of common crime," said Slomianski Aguilar.

Bayardo was detained in 2008 on suspicion of collaborating with the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, as part of a large-scale cleanup of drug corruption that reached high into Mexican federal police and prosecutor's office.

Soon after, Bayardo _ a former federal police investigator _ was released from house arrest and declared a protected witness, said federal and local prosecutors, who spoke on condition of anonymithy.

On Nov. 20, another protected witness against the Sinaloa cartel, Jesus Zambada Reyes, identified as the nephew of drug lord Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, was found dead of asphyxiation at a house in Mexico City.

The federal attorney general's office said Zambada was hanged with a shoelace and described the death as an apparent suicide. But many questioned whether the cartel could have pressured Zambada into killing himself or faked the death as a suicide.

Observers and former law enforcement officials said the Bayardo slaying raised questions about Mexico's protected witness program and illustrated the powerful reach of the cartels.

"Obviously, they (prosecutors) should have been providing significant protection because of the kind of accusations he (Bayardo) made," former top anti-drug prosecutor Samuel Gonzalez said, referring to the fact that Bayardo reportedly implicated other top police officials in corruption. "So this is a very serious failure for the agency charged with protecting him."

Gonzalez said there was little doubt Bayardo's slaying was a killing by gang members, noting the victim's links to organized crime were known or suspected since the 1990s.

"The story of Edgar Bayardo is the story of the tragedy of police forces in Mexico," he said.

Javier Oliva, a political scientist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the country's protected witness program is relatively new and poorly administered.

"These incidents ... show that it is far too easy for criminal organizations to penetrate security arrangements," Oliva said. "The situation is getting worse all the time, and instead of seeing improvement in security, we're seeing more problems."

Elsewhere, Tijuana police reported that a pre-dawn gasoline bomb attack had struck 28 new patrol cars at a Mazda dealership. Ernesto Alvarez, the city's public security spokesman, said six cars were destroyed and the rest sustained damaged but might be reparable.

Tijuana is just across the border from San Diego. Like other Mexican border communities, it has faced an upsurge in violence in recent years associated with drug cartels.

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Associated Press Writer Mark Stevenson contributed to this report.