Cardinal's killers 'allowed to flee'

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THE SCANDAL in Mexico over the shooting to death of a Roman Catholic cardinal has deepened still further after prosecutors claimed that eight gunmen were allowed to flee the scene on a commercial flight.

Government investigators say the gangsters, who included one of the country's most wanted drug barons, boarded an Aero mexico flight to the Mexican border city of Tijuana minutes after the gun battle in which Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo was killed at Guadalajara airport last Monday.

Authorities said last night that an aide to a Mexican drug kingpin has been arrested in the investigation of the killing. Hernan Medina Pantoja was arrested on Saturday in Guadalajara after officials traced his whereabouts by following signals sent by a cellular telephone he was using on 24 May, the day of the cardinal's death.

Government claims added to the intense clamour for a credible account of the circumstances surrounding the death of the cardinal and posed critical questions about the conduct of airport and police officials.

A joint report by the federal and state attorney-generals said crew members on the aircraft had revealed that Guadalajara airport's chief of operations ordered the flight to be delayed because of the shoot-out, which happened just before its scheduled departure, and because passengers had yet to board.

The report said eight nervous young men, two without boarding passes, then got on the plane. Airline staff later identified one as Javier Arellano Felix, a Tijuana-based mafia godfather. On their arrival in Tijuana, a group of associates was awaiting them.

The government says the cardinal, hit by 14 bullets from close range in his car, was killed mistakenly by gunmen who thought he was a drugs trafficker.