SOLDIERS killed a top leader of the Sinaloa cartel in a raid on his posh hideout, dealing the biggest blow yet to Mexico’s most powerful drug gang since President Felipe Calderon launched a military offensive against organised crime in 2006.
Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, a reputed founder of Mexico’s methamphetamine trade, was gunned down trying to escape soldiers in the western city of Guadalajara. Mexican authorities says he fired on soldiers as helicopters hovered overhead and troops closed in.
Coronel was a close associate of Mexico’s most wanted man, Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and was No 3 in the organisation after Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.
“Nacho Coronel tried to escape, and fired on military personnel, killing one soldier and wounding another,” Gen Edgar Luis Villegas said. “Responding to the attack, this ‘capo’ died.”
The raid “significantly affects the operational capacity and drug distribution of the organisation run by Guzman,” he added.
Coronel’s downfall came amid persistent allegations that Calderon’s administration appeared to be favouring the Sinaloa cartel, or not hitting it as hard as other drug gangs.
Those allegations have drawn angry denials from the president and his top law enforcement officials, who point to the 2009 arrest of Vicente “El Vicentillo” Zambada – the son of Ismael Zambada – as proof they were going after the gang.
Coronel’s death was also the biggest strike against Mexican cartels since drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva and six of his bodyguards were killed in a December 16 raid by Mexican marines in Cuernavaca. Beltran Leyva, whose gang was once allied with the Sinaloa cartel, had become an enemy of Guzman’s organisation by the time of his death.
The mysterious Coronel was believed to be “the forerunner in producing massive amounts of methamphetamine in clandestine laboratories in Mexico, then smuggling it into the US”, according to the FBI, which offered a $5 million (€3.8m) reward for the 56-year-old.
Coronel allegedly controlled trafficking through the Mexican states of Jalisco, Colima and parts of Michoacan – the “Pacific route” for cocaine smuggling.
“The scope of its influence and operations penetrate throughout the United States, Mexico, and several other European, Central American, and South American countries,” according to an FBI statement.
More than 26,000 people have died in drug violence across Mexico over the past three-and-a-half years, in a growing worry for the administration of US President Barack Obama.
Some American firms are starting to reconsider future investment plans in Ciudad Juarez and in Mexico’s premier business city, Monterrey. Mexico’s vital tourism industry is also under pressure.
Calderon replaced his interior minister this month after coming under increasing pressure for the rising death toll in the drug war and a lack of victories since security forces shot dead top drug baron Arturo Beltran Leyva in December.
A car bomb with 22 pounds of explosives in Ciudad Juarez this month, the first attack of its kind, and the revelation that prisoners moonlighting as hitmen were behind the killing of 17 people at a party have weighed on Calderon.
Suspected drug hitmen ambushed and killed the frontrunner candidate for a gubernatorial election in the northern state of Tamaulipas in late June, in the worst sign so far of political intimidation by smuggling gangs.
Calderon did not comment on Coronel’s killing, but the army said in a statement it believed the hit would “significantly affect the operating capacity and shipment of drugs by Guzman’s organisation”.
Colonel ran his criminal cell out of Zapopan, according to the Mexican government, an upscale suburb that has been the scene of cartel arrests. Guzman’s son was accused of killing two people outside a bar there in 2004.
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