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Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Hit men suspected in Mexico editor execution

Hit men suspected in Mexico editor slay

Hit men suspected in Mexico editor slay

By WILL WEISSERT
The Associated Press
6/23/2004, 7:20 p.m. ET


TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) — The gunmen who ambushed and killed a crusading newspaper editor were likely hired assassins with possible ties to drug-smuggling gangs, investigators said Wednesday.

Officials said Francisco Ortiz just two weeks ago canceled police protection that had been in place since a 1997 attack on another senior figure at Zeta, a weekly known for its reporting on the influence of drug traffickers in Tijuana.

At least two assailants emerged from a sport-utility vehicle and shot Ortiz four times on Tuesday. His two children, ages 10 and 8, riding in the car were unharmed.

"It appears to be the work of professionals with ties to drug traffickers or organized crime," said Abraham Sarabia, chief Tijuana investigator for the federal attorney general's office.

Baja California state Attorney General Antonio Martinez Luna said investigators also would look at any possible link with the 1988 slaying of a founder of Zeta, Hector Felix Miranda. Ortiz and other editors at Zeta have kept the case alive.

In 1997, the newspaper's publisher, Jesus Blancornelas, was badly wounded in a gangland-style attack that killed his bodyguard. Shortly before that, he had written a column linking the Arellano Felix drug gang to the slaying of two federal agents.

Witnesses told investigators that a Jeep believed to be carrying the gunmen was waiting for Ortiz and his children as they left a clinic where he had been treated for facial paralysis.

The attack came around noon on a traffic-congested boulevard just a few blocks from the Tijuana police station.

Ortiz also was among the founders of Zeta, which has a reputation for fearless pieces focusing on corruption and organized crime along the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Zeta specializes in drug-trafficking stories. It mentions the first and last names of smugglers and says where they operate," said Victor Clark, director of the Tijuana-based Binational Center for Human Rights. "Other journalists also cover drugs, but they don't do so constantly, with the forcefulness of Zeta."

In a statement, Zeta demanded "an investigation that leads to the killers' capture."

U.S. and Mexico prosecutors say the border between Tijuana and San Diego is the hub of the notoriously violent Arellano Felix smuggling gang which is accused of moving tons of cocaine and marijuana into the United States.

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