, MEXICO CITY, Jul 30 – A top leader of Mexico\’s Sinaloa drug gang has been killed while resisting arrest in a military raid, the defense ministry said, in a rare victory for authorities battling the country\’s brutal drug cartels.
The army launched the raid in a suburb of the western city of Guadalajara against kingpin Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel, who "tried to escape" and opened fire on soldiers who shot back and "killed the drug lord," deputy defense minister Edgar Luis Villegas told a press conference.
He said Coronel fired on the soldiers, killing one and wounding another in the operation, which also netted Francisco Quinones, considered Coronel\’s chief lieutenant.
Coronel, 56, "controlled the mafia group\’s cocaine trafficking along the so-called \’Pacific route,\’" said Villegas, adding that the intelligence sources believe Coronel directed the vast drug-running operations from western Mexico, largely across the northern border into the United States.
In addition to his cocaine empire, Coronel — who was a close partner of Mexico\’s most wanted man Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman — was also known as the "King of Crystal" for his dominance of crystal methamphetamine production and trafficking.
The US and Mexican governments both had outstanding arrest warrants for him, while US authorities had offered a five-million-dollar reward for information leading to his capture.
The FBI deemed Coronel a major global narcotics distributor, "purchasing multi-ton quantities of cocaine" from Colombian suppliers.
"Although the Ignacio Coronel Villareal Mexican Drug Trafficking Organization is based in Mexico, the scope of its influence and operations penetrate throughout the United States, Mexico, and several other European, Central American, and South American countries," the Federal Bureau of Investigation said on its "Wanted" listing for Coronel.
One of Coronel\’s nieces reportedly married Guzman, the fugitive head of the Sinaloa gang, in 2007.
Coronel on Thursday took refuge in one of two homes he used as safe houses in a suburb of Guadalajara, according to military officials.
Neighbors said helicopters flew over the residential area at mid-day and military units surrounded the location.
"Helicopters flew very low and prevented us from leaving our homes, then we heard gunshots and explosions," one resident told reporters.
Coronel\’s death marks the sharpest blow against the powerful syndicate since the government of President Felipe Calderon — who was in Guadalajara Thursday to meet businesspeople and inaugurate a new stadium — launched a military crackdown on organized crime in December 2006.
Some 25,000 people have died in spiraling drug violence since then, including 7,000 this year alone, and authorities blame much of it on fighting between the Sinaloa gang and the brutal Zetas gang of former elite soldiers.
The violence has turned particularly grisly and brazen this year, as the cartels apparently engage in reprisal attacks and seek to disable one another as they battle for control of lucrative trafficking routes.
On Tuesday authorities found eight human heads near roadsides outside the northern Mexico city of Durango after a series of anonymous tip-offs to police, the latest in a long series of beheadings blamed on cartel hit squads.
And last Sunday the attorney general of Durango state, north of Guadalajara, accused officials at a prison in Gomez Palacio of releasing inmates to carry out drug-related killings. Those included three massacres which left 35 dead this year in neighboring Torreon, in Coahuila state.