Top Cartel Leader Killed In Mexican Border City Clash

A top leader of the Gulf drug cartel was killed during a two-hour gun battle with Mexican security forces in the border city of Matamoros, authorities said.

(CNN)

Cardenas Guillen, known as 'Tony Tormenta', was killed in a shootout with the military

A top leader of the Gulf drug cartel was killed during a two-hour gun battle with Mexican security forces in the border city of Matamoros, authorities said.

Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, known as "Tony Tormenta" or "Tony the Storm," was killed in the shootout Friday, Mexican military officials said in a statement.

Cardenas, 48, was a top leader of one of Mexico's major drug-trafficking operations, and the U.S. State Department had been offering a $5-million reward for information leading to his capture.

"Today was another significant step in the destruction of criminal organizations that have done so much to damage the people of this country," said Alejandro Poire, security spokesman for the Mexican government.

Naval troops were met with grenades and assault-weapon fire when they approached Cardenas' hideout in the center of the city around 3:30 p.m. Friday (5:30 p.m. ET), the Mexican navy said.

Four other suspected members of the cartel were also killed in the operation, which ended about 5:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. ET) the Mexican navy said. Three naval officers were killed and four others were injured, authorities said.

The Gulf cartel is one of Mexico's major drug-trafficking organizations. It is based in Matamoros, which is across the border from Brownsville, Texas.

Cardenas allegedly began his drug trafficking career during the late 1980s, rose through the ranks of the Gulf cartel and was eventually given control over the Matamoros-Brownsville corridor, the U.S. State Department said. In that role, he has been responsible for shipments of marijuana and cocaine across the border, according to the State Department.

He has been indicted several times by U.S. federal authorities for alleged drug trafficking crimes, including directing drug shipments by boats, planes and cars from Colombia and Venezuela to Guatemala, Mexico and Texas, according to a statement from the U.S. Justice Department last year.

Friday's operation came after more than six months of intelligence gathering, the Mexican navy said. The four others suspected cartel members killed Friday were "part of the circle of protection closest to 'Tony Tormenta,'" the navy said.

The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College canceled classes through Saturday and said it would rework several weekend events "because of gunfire taking place across the Rio Grande."

Most of the students and faculty members have gone home, said Letty Fernandez, a university spokeswoman. The campus is about half a mile from the U.S.-Mexico border.

Sgt. Reynaldo Trevino, with the university police, said he was working at a soccer game when he heard gunfire break out.

He said the gunshots sounded so close it was "like we were there."

More than 28,000 people have died in drug-related violence since Mexican President Felipe Calderon intensified the government's fight against cartels and organized crime after taking office in 2006, according to government figures.

Authorities have scored a string of important wins against drug cartels recently.

In September, officials arrested Sergio Villarreal, known to Mexican officials as "El Grande," an alleged top leader of the Beltran Leyva cartel. His capture came soon after the August arrest of American-born "La Barbie," or Edgar Valdez, thought to be one of Mexico's most ruthless drug traffickers.A top leader of the Gulf drug cartel was killed during a two-hour gun battle with Mexican security forces in the border city of Matamoros, authorities said.

Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, known as "Tony Tormenta" or "Tony the Storm," was killed in the shootout Friday, Mexican military officials said in a statement.

Cardenas, 48, was a top leader of one of Mexico's major drug-trafficking operations, and the U.S. State Department had been offering a $5-million reward for information leading to his capture.

"Today was another significant step in the destruction of criminal organizations that have done so much to damage the people of this country," said Alejandro Poire, security spokesman for the Mexican government.

Naval troops were met with grenades and assault-weapon fire when they approached Cardenas' hideout in the center of the city around 3:30 p.m. Friday (5:30 p.m. ET), the Mexican navy said.

Four other suspected members of the cartel were also killed in the operation, which ended about 5:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. ET) the Mexican navy said. Three naval officers were killed and four others were injured, authorities said.

The Gulf cartel is one of Mexico's major drug-trafficking organizations. It is based in Matamoros, which is across the border from Brownsville, Texas.

Cardenas allegedly began his drug trafficking career during the late 1980s, rose through the ranks of the Gulf cartel and was eventually given control over the Matamoros-Brownsville corridor, the U.S. State Department said. In that role, he has been responsible for shipments of marijuana and cocaine across the border, according to the State Department.

He has been indicted several times by U.S. federal authorities for alleged drug trafficking crimes, including directing drug shipments by boats, planes and cars from Colombia and Venezuela to Guatemala, Mexico and Texas, according to a statement from the U.S. Justice Department last year.

Friday's operation came after more than six months of intelligence gathering, the Mexican navy said. The four others suspected cartel members killed Friday were "part of the circle of protection closest to 'Tony Tormenta,'" the navy said.

The University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College canceled classes through Saturday and said it would rework several weekend events "because of gunfire taking place across the Rio Grande."

Most of the students and faculty members have gone home, said Letty Fernandez, a university spokeswoman. The campus is about half a mile from the U.S.-Mexico border.

Sgt. Reynaldo Trevino, with the university police, said he was working at a soccer game when he heard gunfire break out.

He said the gunshots sounded so close it was "like we were there."

More than 28,000 people have died in drug-related violence since Mexican President Felipe Calderon intensified the government's fight against cartels and organized crime after taking office in 2006, according to government figures.

Authorities have scored a string of important wins against drug cartels recently.

In September, officials arrested Sergio Villarreal, known to Mexican officials as "El Grande," an alleged top leader of the Beltran Leyva cartel. His capture came soon after the August arrest of American-born "La Barbie," or Edgar Valdez, thought to be one of Mexico's most ruthless drug traffickers.

But elsewhere in Mexico on Friday, the arrest of two men believed to be part of the La Familia cartel in the Mexican state of Michoacan sparked violent clashes in the region, including the blockade of several roads with vehicles set on fire, Notimex reported.

A string of shootings and other violent attacks were believed to be an attempt to rescue them from police custody, Notimex said.

A number of passenger buses were riddled with bullets and set on fire, and two gasoline tankers were also set ablaze using molotov cocktails. A few homes and a convenience store were also targets of the attacks, according to Notimex.

The arrests in Michoacan came a day after authorities in the United States announced the arrest of 46 members of the same cartel in Georgia as the result of an investigation that started in May 2009.