The suspected leader of the Los Zetas drug cartel in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo Leon was killed earlier this week in a gunfight with army troops, who rescued eight kidnapping victims, the Defense Secretariat said.
Juan Carlos Cordoba Ocaña, “El Furcio,” considered “the main operator of the Los Zetas criminal organization in the city of Guadalupe,” was killed Monday in a shootout with 7th Military Region troops, the secretariat said.
The shootout started Monday afternoon while soldiers were checking out a tip from citizens about criminal activities at a house in Guadalupe, a city in the Monterrey metropolitan area.
An unknown number of gunmen opened fire on the soldiers from inside the house and Cordoba Ocaña died in the gunfight, the secretariat said.
Soldiers arrested a suspect and seized “two rifles, two vehicles, ammunition clips, ammunition and tactical gear,” the Defense Secretariat said.
Four children, three women and a man being held captive at the house were rescued.
Cordoba Ocaña was in charge of contract hits, kidnappings and extortion rackets in Guadalupe, considered the most violent city of the nine in the area around Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon state.
The Zetas boss was also blamed for a series of attacks with assault rifles and explosives on state police, the secretariat said.
Seven state police officers kidnapped in Guadalupe are still missing.
About 70 federal, state and municipal law enforcement agents have died in the drug-related violence in Nuevo Leon in the past year.
Nuevo Leon and neighboring Tamaulipas state have been rocked by a wave of violence unleashed by drug traffickers battling for control of smuggling routes into the United States.
The violence has intensified in the two border states since the appearance in Monterrey in February 2010 of giant banners heralding an alliance of the Gulf, Sinaloa and La Familia drug cartels against Los Zetas.
Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, known as “El Lazca,” deserted from the Mexican army in 1999 and formed Los Zetas with three other soldiers, all members of an elite special operations unit, becoming the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel.
After several years on the payroll of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
The cartels arrayed against Los Zetas blame the group’s involvement in kidnappings, armed robbery and extortion for discrediting “true drug traffickers” in the eyes of ordinary Mexicans willing to tolerate the illicit trade as long as the gangs stuck to their own unwritten rule against harming innocents.
A total of 15,270 people died in drug-related violence in Mexico last year, and more than 35,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the country’s cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006.
Calderon has deployed tens of thousands of soldiers and Federal Police officers across the country to combat drug cartels and other criminal organizations.
The anti-drug operation, however, has failed to put a dent in the violence due, according to experts, to drug cartels’ ability to buy off the police and even high-ranking officials.