- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 24, 2008

TIJUANA, Mexico | Police say they chased a suspected drug cartel hit man through the streets of Tijuana and into a crowded casino, arresting him and an accomplice after hundreds of frightened gamblers were ordered to the floor.

Mexico’s federal Public Security Department said the suspects arrested Friday are believed to be Ruben Rios Estrada, a key gunman for the Arellano-Felix cocaine cartel, and Hector Manuel Mora Mendoza, another suspected gang member. They were flown to Mexico City under heavy guard, the agency said.

Federal troops and police vehicles chased the suspects at high speed through the streets before they fled into the casino, the department said. Federal agents caught them as they gambled, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, citing witness accounts.

The casino company - owned by former Tijuana Mayor Jorge Hank Rhon - complained to local newspapers that the raid by masked, heavily armed police terrified and endangered some 1,300 customers.

Federal police said they found a shotgun, two pistols, hundreds of bullets and five shirts emblazoned with police insignia in the suspects’ vehicle.

Elsewhere in the border region, Mexican authorities are struggling to maintain even minimal law and order in the face of the drug cartels’ power.

Hours after the dramatic raid south of San Diego, police in Chihuahua state found the bullet-riddled body of Villa Ahumada’s newly appointed police chief, Jesus Blanco Cano, on a ranch outside the town, about 80 miles south of El Paso, Texas, said Alejandro Pariente, a spokesman for the regional deputy attorney general’s office.

Chief Blanco, 40, had been on the job for just a day before he was beaten, blindfolded and shot with his hands tied behind his back. Twelve bullet casings were found at the scene.

The previous police chief, two other officers and three residents were killed in May when 70 gunmen barged into Villa Ahumada, a town virtually taken over by drug gangs.

The rest of its 20-member police force then quit in fear, forcing the Mexican military to take over, and in the months since then, the town had slowly been recruiting new officers, without a police chief until Chief Blanco took the job. The troops eventually left.

Associated Press writer Marina Montemayor contributed to this report from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

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