Gulf cartel members tried to mount a rescue operation for the criminal organization’s leader, Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, who was killed last week by Mexican marines, a navy spokesman said.
Cartel gunmen used moving vehicles and sharpshooters positioned on rooftops to try to rescue Cardenas, known as “Tony Tormenta,” during the operation mounted by marines Friday in the northeastern border city of Matamoros, navy spokesman Rear Adm. Jose Luis Vergara said.
The shootout with the drug boss and his bodyguards lasted nearly three hours.
The cartel’s gunmen tried to break through the security perimeter established by marines to rescue Cardenas, Vergara said.
The hunt for the Gulf cartel boss was launched after the navy received an anonymous telephone call about a shootout in the border city, the military spokesman said.
The Gulf cartel, one of Mexico’s oldest organized crime groups, is considered partly responsible for the wave of violence that has rocked the country.
Several shootouts between federal forces and suspected criminals had occurred throughout the day in Matamoros, which is located in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas and lies across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas.
Marines went to check out the tip about the shootout and reports later began to “circulate” that Cardenas was in the area, Vergara said, without providing additional details.
The drug lord was found at a house protected by four bodyguards, who engaged marines in a firefight.
A total of 660 marines were involved in the operation to storm the house, backed by three helicopters and 17 vehicles.
Roadblocks were put up on Matamoros’s main roads and U.S. officials shut down the international bridges in that area of the border during the operation.
The shootout started around 3:00 p.m. Friday and ended at approximately 5:35 p.m., when Cardenas went down.
The four gunmen protecting Cardenas and three marines also died in the shootout, while four other marines were wounded.
A soldier died in another incident near the area, while a journalist was killed by gunfire from the marines, Mexican media reported.
Two people, including Cardenas’s right-hand man, were arrested in the operation.
The United States was offering a reward of $5 million for information leading to the arrest of Cardenas, who was wanted in that country on drug charges, while the Mexican government had placed a bounty of about half that sum on the drug lord’s head.
The navy had been tracking the Gulf cartel boss since March and was trying to determine his whereabouts, but the drug trafficker managed to escape several times, thanks to tips provided by police and state officials on his payroll, the press reported.
Marines came close to nabbing Cardenas last Monday, but he managed to evade capture.
Cardenas had led the Gulf cartel since the 2003 arrest of his brother, Osiel Cardenas, who was extradited to the United States in 2007 and sentenced to 25 years in prison in February for drug trafficking.
Cardenas shared the leadership of the Gulf cartel with close associate Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, alias “El Coss.”
He was responsible, according to the U.S. State Department, for “planning, overseeing and directing drug-trafficking and money-collection activities in Matamoros, Mexico” and controlled “the Matamoros-Brownsville corridor on behalf of the Gulf cartel.”
Tamaulipas has registered hundreds of murders this year amid a brutal turf war between the Gulf and Los Zetas cartels.
Cardenas Guillen is the third Mexican drug kingpin killed in security force operations in less than a year.
In December 2009, Beltran Leyva cartel leader Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed in a shootout with marines in Cuernavaca, the capital of the central state of Morelos and main bastion of that criminal organization.
In July, the powerful Sinaloa cartel’s No. 3 leader, Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, was killed in a clash with army troops in the western city of Guadalajara.
Those reputed drug lords, as in the case of Cardenas, also resisted arrest.
Some 30,000 people have died in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderon declared war on Mexico’s cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006.
The Mexico City daily Reforma reported Thursday that gangland killings have topped 10,000 this year.