Former leader of Mexico's Tijuana drug cartel killed

MEXICO CITY (AFP) - The former head of a major Mexican drug cartel was shot dead by an unknown gunman at a family party on Friday night, newspapers said on Saturday.

Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix, 63, the former head of the Tijuana cartel, was killed in a hotel in the resort town of Cabo San Lucas in north-west Mexico, said the newspaper Reforma, quoting what it called unofficial sources. A gunman went into the party and shot Arellano Felix in the head and chest, Reforma said.

The body was identified by one of his children, said another paper, El Universal. It quoted unnamed military and law enforcement authorities. An Interior Ministry official confirmed there was a shooting at the hotel but would neither confirm nor deny the victim was Arellano Felix.

Arellano Felix was arrested in 1980 in San Diego, California, for drug trafficking and upon his release on bail returned to Mexico. In 1993, he was arrested in Mexico and jailed on drug charges, and in 2006 was extradited to the United States. There, he was sentenced to six years in jail after confessing to selling drugs to an undercover agent. He was released in 2008, winning time off his sentence for good behaviour, and repatriated to Mexico.

One of his brothers was killed in a gunbattle in 2002 and three others are in prison.

The power of the Arellano Felix family among Mexico's violent cartels has waned in recent years, but they do control part of the border with California, experts say. Now, the cartel is run by a daughter of the man reported killed Friday and by one of her sons, analysts say.