MEXICO CITY (AP) — Gunmen killed a leading Gulf Cartel commander who was sought by the U.S. and believed to be behind a split with a rival crime organization that intensified Mexico's drug violence, authorities said Friday.
Samuel Flores Borrego, also know as "el Metro 3," was shot dead near Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas, in what appeared to be an attack by members of his own cartel, the Mexican Attorney General's Office said in a statement. He was found Friday inside a vehicle along with the body of a police officer.
Flores, 39, is believed to be responsible for the January 2010 killing of a Zetas member that led to a rupture between the former allies, U.S. anti-drug officials have said. The Zetas started as a gang of hit men for the Gulf Cartel, but after the split formed their own cartel, and fighting between the groups over territory and drug turf has caused violence to soar in parts of Mexico.
The U.S. government had a reward of up to $5 million for the capture of Flores, who faced drug-trafficking charges north of the border, according to a 2010 indictment in the District of Columbia.
Of the 20 people charged in the U.S. indictment, eight remain fugitives, including Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano and Gulf Cartel leader Jorge Eduardo Costilla.
The indictment says Flores was the Gulf Cartel's chief in the border cities of Reynosa and Miguel Aleman and gathered information on police and security forces.
The Zetas used to operate as the military arm of the Gulf Cartel. The indictment chronicles how the two gangs worked together under the name "The Company," with Flores calling and meeting with the Zetas leader to plan cocaine and marijuana smuggling operations from Colombia.
The alliance crumbled in January 2010, when a member of the Zetas was slain in Reynosa apparently by Flores, leader of the border city's "plaza" or shipping corridors, and a group of men. The killing led to fierce war between the two gangs, mostly in northern Mexico and Mexico's Gulf coast.
The Mexican government has cracked down on the Zetas, arresting dozens of alleged members this year. Mexican marines killed leader Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, also known as "Tony Tormenta" or "Tony the Storm," in November 2010.
President Felipe Calderon acknowledged Friday in his state-of-the-nation speech that violence "worsened with the rupture between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas."
More than 35,000 people have been killed in Mexico since Calderon deployed federal police and troops to some regions in December 2006 to fight drug traffickers. Other groups put the death toll at 40,000.
The war between the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel is blamed for some of the country's worst crimes, including the April discovery of 193 bodies in mass graves in the town of San Fernando near the U.S. border. The government blamed the Zetas for last week's casino arson in the industrial city of Monterrey that killed 52 people, mostly women who met with friends to gamble.
Meanwhile, in a central Mexican state, police arrested 31 suspected drug cartel members, including 16 police officers who allegedly were paid to protect the Zetas gang.
Hidalgo state police chief Damian Canales said the arrests began when police nabbed three alleged robbers earlier this week carrying about 30 yellow envelopes stuffed with a total of 100,000 pesos, or $8,100. Canales said it was the cartel payroll and some of the envelopes were marked with the names of police officers.
Hidalgo is the home state of alleged Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano and a transit point for drugs. Hidalgo authorities in May arrested a police chief, commanding officers and agents suspected of helping the Zetas.