Mexico arrests suspect linked to US agent's death

AP News
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Posted: Mar 09, 2011 6:05 PM
Mexico arrests suspect linked to US agent's death

Federal police have arrested another suspected drug cartel member for alleged links to last month's attack in Mexico that killed one U.S. agent and wounded another, authorities said Wednesday.

In the Pacific coast resort city of Mazatlan, meanwhile, gunmen sprayed the crowded parking lot of a bar with bullets, killing at least six people, including the grandson of one of the state's best-known musicians, authorities said. Twenty one people were wounded.

The suspect in the U.S. officer's slaying, Mario Jimenez Perez, 41, alias "El Mayito," oversaw finances for the Zetas gang in the northern state of San Luis Potosi, the Public Safety Department said in a statement. He allegedly ran payroll for cartel assassins, managed income from drug sales and acquired properties and communications equipment for the gang.

Federal police arrested him March 5 along with 16 other suspects who purportedly worked for the Zetas.

This "heavily armed group provided protection to leaders of the criminal gang ... and presumably worked as extorters, kidnappers and killers in addition to transporting, buying and selling drugs," the statement said.

Four of the suspects were hospitalized immediately, but officials did not say whether there was a shootout or provide information on their condition. Police seized firearms, drugs, vehicles, cell phones and radios.

The Public Safety Department did not give any details on Jimenez's alleged involvement in the Feb. 15 killing of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata, who was killed by gunmen after they stopped his vehicle on a highway in San Luis Potosi. A second agent, Victor Avila, was wounded.

Mexican authorities have previously arrested a number of purported Zetas operatives allegedly involved in the attack. One of the suspects who allegedly took part in the shooting said gunmen mistook the agents' SUV for a vehicle used by a rival gang, the Mexican military said.

San Luis Potosi borders two northern states where the Zetas and the Gulf cartel have waged bloody turf wars. Zapata and Avila were temporarily detailed to the ICE attache office in Mexico City and were driving from the northern city of Monterrey to the capital when they were attacked.

Though it is rare for U.S. officials to be attacked, the U.S. government has become increasingly concerned about the safety of its employees in Mexico amid soaring drug violence.

In March, a U.S. employee of the American consulate in Ciudad Juarez, her husband and a Mexican tied to the consulate were killed when drug gang members fired on their cars after they left a children's party in the city across from El Paso, Texas.

Ten members and associates of the Southwest border gang Barrio Azteca have been charged in the United States in those murders, according to a grand jury indictment unsealed Wednesday in El Paso, Texas.

The indictment details a criminal enterprise that began in the late 1980s as a violent prison gang, which then expanded into a group of murderers and drug traffickers who operate on both sides of U.S.-Mexico border.

The unsealed indictment did not supply a motive for the consulate killings, but it could have been as simple as a case of mistaken identity, said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who heads the Justice Department's criminal division.

In all, more than 35,000 people have died nationwide in drug violence since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched an all-out offensive against cartels.

In Mazatlan, in the northwestern state of Sinaloa, a crowd was listening to traditional "banda" music following a performance at a popular bar Tuesday night when two vehicles pulled up. An undetermined number of masked men got out and opened fire, state Deputy Attorney General Martin Robles Armenta said.

Authorities said six people ages 19 to 34 were killed, and two of the wounded were in serious condition. Among the dead was a grandson of Don Cruz Lizarraga, founder of "El Recodo," Sinaloa's best-known banda group, state prosecutors' spokesman Martin Gastelum confirmed.

Alberto Lizarraga, also a musician, was playing with the band "La Sinaloense" the night of the shooting, Gastelum said.

Authorities recovered more than 100 assault-rifle shells.

The attack took place during Mazatlan's Carnival celebrations along a seaside street in a neighborhood popular with travelers. It was not immediately clear whether any tourists were among the victims.

Several cruise lines have recently canceled stops in Mazatlan citing violence there, though no tourists have been killed. Sinaloa is the cradle of several drug cartels and has one of the highest homicide rates in the country.

To the south in the state of Guerrero, the military reported that soldiers killed six suspected drug gang members in a shootout at their cave hide-out.

Troops came under fire Tuesday while patrolling in Buenavista de Cuellar and responded in kind, killing all the occupants of the roadside cave, the Defense Department said in a statement.

The department said the cave was equipped with blankets and cooking utensils. Authorities seized nine rifles.

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Associated Press writers Ricardo Gonzalez in Sinaloa, Mexico, Sergio Flores in Acapulco, Mexico, and Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this report.