Killer ‘clowns’ murder Mexican ex-drug capo: official

LA PAZ - Gunmen disguised as clowns at a children's party shot dead the eldest brother of Mexico's once powerful Arellano Felix drug cartel family, authorities said Saturday.

Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix, 63, was gunned down at a family event Friday in Cabo San Lucas, a tourist resort in the Baja California peninsula, state special investigations prosecutor Isai Arias told reporters.

"He was hit by two bullets, one in the thorax and one in the head," Arias said.

Relatives identified the former Tijuana drug cartel lieutenant's body, Arias said, adding that there have been no arrests in the case.

The gunmen were dressed as clowns when they shot Arellano Felix at the party in the luxurious Casa Oceano tourist residence, agents close to the case told AFP.

The Arellano Felix brothers once dominated drug trafficking between Mexico and California through their brutal Tijuana cartel, inspiring characters in the Steven Soderbergh movie "Traffic."

Most of the Arellano Felix brothers have been either killed or arrested, leaving the cartel in tatters. Infighting also weakened the group.

Francisco Rafael's murder is likely "due to unpaid old debts, and old retributions" from the times that the Arellanos were at the height of their power between 1990 and 2000, said Raul Benitez a drug trade expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Nicknamed "El Menso" (The Dummy), Francisco Rafael was arrested in 1980 in San Diego, California, for allegedly selling drugs, but slipped back to Mexico when he was released on bail.

In 1993 he was arrested in Mexico and jailed on drug charges. In 2006 he was extradited to the United States and was sentenced to six years in jail after confessing to selling drugs to an undercover agent.

In 2008 he was released, earning time off his sentence for good behaviour, according to his attorney at the time, and repatriated to Mexico.

Benitez said that it was unlikely the former drug lord was back in the trade again.

The Tijuana Cartel "has been completely dismantled, with all of its leaders in prison either in the United States or in Mexico," Benitez said.

One of the brothers, Ramon, was killed in a police shootout in 2002. Three other brothers are in US prisons, including Eduardo, who was sentenced to 15 years by a California court in August for money laundering.

Rivals, especially Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa Federation which also began around 1990, have since eclipsed the Tijuana group and taken over most of its territory.

The Sinaloa group, based in the western state of Sinaloa, is Mexico's most powerful drug cartel, rivaled only by the paramilitary Zetas, who are most active in northeastern Mexico.

Security experts however believe the remnants of the cartel survive in the key border city of Tijuana.

They believe the rump cartel is now run by the brothers' sister Enedina and her son Fernando, known as "The Engineer."

Violence linked to drug trafficking and organised crime has left more than 70,000 dead in Mexico over the past seven years.