Mexico nabs drug suspect wanted in Tijuana battles
By Alexandra Olson
MEXICO CITY — Mexican soldiers captured a suspected cartel member accused of killing two federal agents and leading bloody battles for smuggling routes in the northern city of Tijuana, authorities said Thursday.
Jose Filiberto Parra Ramos appears in a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration poster of 10 men it believes have been locked in a violent power struggle since a split in the Arellano Felix cartel last year.
Soldiers captured Parra and three other drug suspects Wednesday in Tijuana using unspecified intelligence, the Defense Department and the Attorney General’s Office said in a statement.
The department said Parra is allied with Teodoro Garcia Simental, who is believed to be waging a bloody battle against reputed Arellano Felix cartel leader Fernando Sanchez Arellano, reputed heir to the Arellano Felix cartel.
Masked soldiers led a handcuffed and scowling Parra off an airplane that landed in Mexico City from Tijuana, and paraded him in front of reporters at the airport.
Parra led a group of armed men an April 2008 battle between the sides that left 13 people dead, the statement said. He also allegedly killed two federal police agents whose bodies were found at a ranch in the Baja California state town of Tecate that same month.
According to Mexican authorities, Garcia left after the April 2008 battle to join forces with the powerful Sinaloa cartel and returned to Tijuana with a vengeance in September, sparking more than three months of intense bloodshed.
The Defense Department says battles between the two gangs last year left 749 people dead.
The army almost caught Parra twice at parties early this year, Gen. Alfonso Duarte Mugica, the top army commander in Tijuana, told the Associated Press in February.
At a three-day bash in January, Parra and Garcia, known as "El Teo," barely escaped onto a beach. Instead, soldiers found Santiago Meza Lopez, nicknamed the "Pozole Maker," after a Mexican stew, because he is accused of disposing hundreds of bodies by disolving them in a corrosive material.
Parra and another suspected trafficker, Reydel Lopez Uriarte, were close with Garcia but stayed on good terms with Sanchez Arellano after Garcia fled Tijuana last year, Duarte Mugica said. When Garcia returned to Tijuana in September, they joined him.
Mexico has captured several high-profile cartel suspects since President Felipe Calderon launched a national crackdown on cartels in 2006 by sending troops to Michoacan, his home state. But drug violence has surged, claiming more than 10,800 lives since.
On Thursday, gunmen opened fire and tossed a grenade at a crowded taco stand in the central Mexican city of Uruapan, killing a police officer and a 15-year-old boy, a spokesman for the state prosecutor’s office said n condition of anonymity because his office does not allow him to give his name.
The policeman was shot while eating with a fellow officer, the spokesman said. Before fleeing, the assailants shot two tanks of cooking gas that exploded, burning the teenage taco stand worker to death. Four other people were injured.
Investigators said the attack apparently targeted the two officers.
Also Thursday, armed men barged into a motel room and killed five people in their beds in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas, said Victor Valencia de los Santos, public safety secretary for Chihuahua state. A sixth person was wounded.
Two other people were killed during a car chase and shootout between armed men in downtown Juarez, said Enrique Torres, a spokesman for the joint military and federal police operation responsible for security in the city. Both people killed were gunmen.
The federal Attorney General’s Office, meanwhile, offered a 10 million peso ($737,000) reward for information on the whereabouts of Francisco Serrano, the customs administrator for the Gulf coast state of Veracruz believed to have been kidnapped this month.
Serrano recently launched a new system to check shipping containers at Veracruz, one of Mexico’s most important ports and the scene of increasing drug violence.