Drug gangs linked to killing of cardinal

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OFFICIALS in Mexico believe that one of the country's most powerful drugs lords lay behind the shoot-out which led to the death of a Catholic cardinal in Guadalajara.

They claim evidence is mounting that the gunfight involved the narcotics-trafficking cartel operated by Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, whose group has been fighting for control of cocaine and marijuana routes along the Western end of the US-Mexico border.

Mexican officials say the shoot-out, at Guadalajara airport on Monday, which killed Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo and six others, was among henchmen working for Guzman and an organisation operated by the Arellano Felix family based in the border city of Tijuana.

Sources claim that one of the two suspects who were detained by police shortly after the shooting is a member of Guzman's cartel, who took officers to two local safe houses where they found arms caches and several armoured vehicles - a measure of the considerable resources and murderous intent of Mexico's drugs barons, who trans-ship an estimated 70 per cent of the cocaine which enters the US each year.

Although such claims lend weight to the official theory that the cardinal died accidentally after being caught in crossfire, nagging questions remain unanswered about his death. One of the victims reportedly had a federal police identification badge, and baseball-style hats belonging to Mexican anti-narcotics agents are also said to have been found near the scene. Officials in Guadalajara continue to supply contradictory accounts of what happened.

The chief prosecutor for the state of Jalisco, Leobardo Larios Guzman, said that the cardinal had been an innocent bystander, whom a gun-toting cartel member had mistaken for a rival. But the local head of forensics, Mario Rivas Souza, maintained that there were indications that the shots were fired directly at Posadas, who was hit at least 11 times, and who may have been deliberately targeted.

Despite official denials, suspicion remains that law enforcement officials may have been involved in the shoot-out. If so, it would not have been the first time. Less than a month ago, Emilio Quintero Payan, chief of the Guadalajara cartel, was gunned down by police outside a shopping centre in an operation they later described as a 'government triumph'. There are rumours too, that the cardinal was deliberately killed. He was known for his staunch opposition to the drug barons and his strong stance on human rights. Many Mexicans find it hard to believe that the country's second most senior churchman happened to wander into a gunfight.