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Friday, December 4, 2009

Another Protected Witness Dies in Mexico

The Associated Press

Police officers guard the entrance to a Starbucks coffee shop after former Federal Police agent Edgar Enrique Bayardo was gunned down in Mexico City, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2009. Bayardo was in a witness protection program of Mexico's Attorney Generals Office (PGR).

MEXICO CITY — Suspected sicarios wearing dark suits shot dead a protected state witness in a Starbucks cafe in Mexico City, days after another witness was found dead.

Edgar Bayardo was gunned down in the upper middle-class Del Valle neighborhood of the capital, and a man with him was severely wounded, city prosecutor Jaime Slomianski Aguilar said. Another customer who apparently had nothing to do with Bayardo also was wounded.

Two assailants entered the shop and, without saying a word, opened fire on Bayardo with an automatic weapon, authorities said. Police said both assailants escaped. They fled with a third accomplice in a waiting vehicle that the attackers abandoned a few blocks away.

Bayardo's bodyguard was seriously injured and a customer at an adjacent table was also hurt, Mexico City district prosecutor Jaime Slomianski said.

Photos showed Bayardo's body lying on the floor surrounded by paper coffee cups.

"It was fairly full when these men in suits came in. Everyone threw themselves on the floor in fear," an eyewitness told Reuters.

Shell casings — numbered by police at up to 23 — lay on the shop floor between the door and the counter. The killing bore all the hallmarks of an organized crime execution.

"By the methods used ... this falls outside the realm of common crime," said Slomianski Aguilar.

Officials at the Mexico City prosecutor's office said sicarios had been following Bayardo for several days. It was unclear why the former policeman was not better protected or why he was out in public.

Bayardo was detained in 2008 on suspicion of collaborating with the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, as part of a large-scale cleanup of drug corruption that reached high into Mexican federal police and prosecutor's office.

Soon after, Bayardo — a former federal police investigator — was released from house arrest and declared a protected witness, said federal and local prosecutors, who spoke on condition of anonymithy.

On Nov. 20, another protected witness against the Sinaloa cartel, Jesus Zambada Reyes, identified as the nephew of drug lord Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, was found dead of asphyxiation at a house in Mexico City.

The federal attorney general's office said Zambada was hanged with a shoelace and described the death as an apparent suicide. But many questioned whether the cartel could have pressured Zambada into killing himself or faked the death as a suicide.

Observers and former law enforcement officials said the Bayardo slaying raised questions about Mexico's protected witness program and illustrated the powerful reach of the cartels.

Police officers investigate the crime scene where federal police officer Edgar Bayardo, was killed in Mexico City.

"Obviously, they (prosecutors) should have been providing significant protection because of the kind of accusations he (Bayardo) made," former top anti-drug prosecutor Samuel Gonzalez said, referring to the fact that Bayardo reportedly implicated other top police officials in corruption. "So this is a very serious failure for the agency charged with protecting him."

Gonzalez said there was little doubt Bayardo's slaying was a killing by gang members, noting the victim's links to organized crime were known or suspected since the 1990s.

"The story of Edgar Bayardo is the story of the tragedy of police forces in Mexico," he said.

Javier Oliva, a political scientist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said the country's protected witness program is relatively new and poorly administered.

"These incidents ... show that it is far too easy for criminal organizations to penetrate security arrangements," Oliva said. "The situation is getting worse all the time, and instead of seeing improvement in security, we're seeing more problems."

Police officers investigate the crime scene where federal police officer, the late Edgar Bayardo, was killed in Mexico City. Three gunmen inside a Starbucks in Mexico City on Tuesday shot and killed a man identified in local news reports as a former police chief, and wounded two other people, authorities said.

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