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Mexico Probes Police Chief’s Death

February 28, 2000

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP) _ In this violent border town where killings occur daily, Tijuana police tried to resolve one more case Monday: the death of their popular police chief, whose car was riddled with bullets on a busy highway.

Investigators hope a gray Cherokee sports utility vehicle with California license plates may offer clues in the killing Sunday of Alfredo de la Torre Marquez.

The Cherokee was believed to be one of three vehicles used in the attack on a busy, six-lane divided highway in the northern edge of Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego.

De la Torre was driving to his office, unaccompanied by his normal contingent of bodyguards, when gunmen using Kalashnikov rifles and 9-mm pistols pulled up alongside his black Suburban and fired 99 rounds at him, officials said. The vehicle crashed into a palm tree on the side of the road.

State Attorney General Juan Manuel Salazar said De la Torre had told his bodyguards that he had planned to stay home all day. It was not known why he decided to go to his office. De la Torre was carrying a pistol, but apparently didn’t use it.

No one has been arrested and the motive of the killing is unknown.

Enrique Tellaeche, spokesman for the Baja California state Attorney General’s Office, said the killing was ``obviously linked to organized crime,″ but said it was too early to tell whether it was connected to the Tijuana-based drug organization led by the Arrellano-Felix brothers, which is notorious for its gangland-style hits.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration considers the organization one of the most powerful and violent drug trafficking groups. One of the brothers, Ramon Eduardo, is on the FBI’s 10 most-wanted list.

De la Torre had been a police officer for 25 years, working his way up from motorcycle cop, and may have made many enemies.

``The only motive for the killing is his job,″ said Jaime Valencia, a police forensics supervisor who, like all his colleagues, wore a black band over his badge. ``A person who does his job well goes against the interests of the bad guys.″

He said de la Torre was loved by his fellow officers. ``He was the best director we’ve had.″

Baja California is one of Mexico’s most violent states and Tijuana is one of the most violent cities. It recorded about 300 murders last year and the pace of killings has picked up this year.

De la Torre is the second Tijuana police chief killed in six years. In April 1994, Federico Benitez and a bodyguard were shot to death when gunmen opened fire on their vehicle as it drove down a highway near the city’s airport.

In a speech while visiting the state Friday, President Ernesto Zedillo pledged to have federal and state officials improve cooperation.

``Organized crime has brought to Baja California a trail of violence, a trail of intimidation,″ he said. ``We have to make these criminals understand that Baja California can’t be their home, that the only places where they deserve to live are in prisons.″

About 55 percent of the cocaine used in the United States is shipped through Mexico or Mexican waters, according to U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey.

This week, the United States, under its annual ``certification″ program,″ will announce which countries are cooperating in the fight against drug trafficking. Mexico’s certification is virtually assured, but the process always results in hard feelings.

Mexicans consider the process humiliating and a violation of their sovereignty. They say they are suffering from drug violence, especially on the border, largely because the United States has done little to reduce its consumption of illegal drugs.

De la Torre is also the second police chief in a border city to be killed in a week. Juan Angel Cabrera Leal, the police chief in Reynosa, was shot to death last Tuesday. Reynosa is across the border from McAllen, Texas.

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