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Mexico blames cartel for murder of police chief

A police officer and four other people with suspected ties to a powerful drug cartel have been arrested in the assassination of Mexico’s acting federal police chief, authorities said Monday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A police officer and four other people with suspected ties to a powerful drug cartel have been arrested in the assassination of Mexico’s acting federal police chief, authorities said Monday.

The three men and two women belonged to a criminal cell believed to be acting on the orders of the Sinaloa drug cartel, said Gerardo Garay, the anti-drug coordinator for the federal police. The drug trafficking organization had been a key target of operations led by Edgar Millan Gomez, who was gunned down inside his Mexico City home last week.

The alleged leader of the cell, Jose Antonio Montes Garfias, had been assigned to a federal police unit in the northern state of Sinaloa since February but never reported to work during that period because he was on medical leave, Garay said. He is suspected in the killing of another federal officer days before Millan’s death.

Officials at the attorney general’s office could not say if lawyers had been assigned to the five suspects.

Garay refused to say if other federal officers were suspected of involvement, saying only that investigators were not ruling out any possibilities.

Series of assassinations
Millan was the highest-ranking of four senior officers killed since May 1 in attacks the government has blamed on gangs resisting its crackdown against drug trafficking. The assassinations have prompted stepped up calls from the Bush administration for Congress to approve a $1.4 billion proposal to help fight drug crime in Mexico and Central America.

Garay said a lone hit man waited inside Millan’s Mexico City home and sprayed him with bullets shortly after the officer opened the door and turned on the lights. Millan’s bodyguards immediately captured the alleged hit man, Alejandro Ramirez, who was found with keys to Millan’s apartment. The other four suspects were tracked down hours later, Garay said.

Millan was responsible for coordinating drug trafficking operations between federal police and soldiers. He had recently announced the arrest of 12 suspected hit men tied to the Sinaloa cartel. He was named acting chief March 1 after his superior was promoted to a deputy Cabinet position.

Garay said Montes had suspected ties to top Sinaloa cartel leaders known as the Beltran Leyva brothers, although he refused to give any evidence, citing security reasons. One of the brothers, Alfredo Beltran Leyva, was arrested in Sinaloa state in January.

Montes was found with a list of license plates of five vehicles belonging to federal police commanders, including Roberto Bravo Velasco, an inspector gunned down in front of his home days before Millan was killed.

Before being assigned to Sinaloa, Montes had worked as an anti-drug officer in Mexico City’s International Airport, Garay said. He had a notebook with detailed information on drug trafficking at the airport, and Garay said federal investigations into those operations may have been a key motive for Millan’s killing.

The other three suspects were accused of providing logistical help for the plot, including vehicles and radios.

Drug-related bloodshed soars
Since taking office in 2006, President Felipe Calderon has sent more than 25,000 troops to drug hotspots. Cartels have responded with unprecedented violence, beheading police and killing soldiers. Drug-related violence killed more than 2,500 people last year alone in Mexico.

The Bush administration reiterated its appeal Monday for Congress to approve the law enforcement aid package known as the Merida Initiative.

“We are shocked by the escalating violence against Mexican law enforcement officials,” said U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, calling recent attacks “a brutal reaction to President Calderon’s determination to fight organized crime.”