Mexican drug cartel gunman arrested for attempted murder

New York, January 29, 2008
—The Committee to Protect Journalists urges Mexican authorities to fully investigate the alleged involvement of Alfredo Araujo Avila, a top hit man for the Arellano Félix drug cartel, in the shooting of editor J. Jesús Blancornelas a decade ago. Araujo was arrested Saturday in Tijuana by the Mexican military, according to international news reports.

As part of President Felipe Calderón’s administration’s crackdown on drug trafficking, soldiers stormed a house in Tijuana and arrested Araujo after an anonymous tip-off, said Reuters. Mexican law enforcement officials have described Araujo as one of the top assassins of the powerful Arellano Félix drug cartel. According to The New York Times, he is a U.S. citizen.

Araujo, known as “Popeye,” is among the suspects in the murder of Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo, shot on May 24, 1993, while sitting in his car at Guadalajara airport, The Associated Press reported. Mexican authorities have also named Araujo as a suspect in the 1997 murder attempt against Blancornelas, founder and editor of the weekly Tijuana-based magazine Zeta. Blancornelas’ bodyguard, Luis Valero, was killed in the attack, and Blancornelas was gravely wounded.

“We are encouraged by the prospect of justice in the assassination attempt against
Zeta’s founder,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We urge Mexican authorities to ensure that Araujo’s involvement in the shooting against Blancornelas is fully investigated. Violence against journalists will never cease until authorities prove they will go after the perpetrators.”

The shooting attack against Blancornelas was prompted by an investigative piece in Zeta describing how the Arellano Félix cartel recruited gunmen from violent street gangs in San Diego’s Barrio Logan neighborhood. The leader of the Barrio Logan assassins was a veteran gangster named David Barron Corona, who earned the Arellano Félix family’s loyalty by saving two of the brothers from an ambush. Blancornelas published an article identifying Barron Corona as one of the top cartel enforcers.

A few weeks later, Barron Corona and a team of assassins ambushed Blancornelas while he was on his way to work. The assassination attempt failed only because Barron Corona was killed by one of his own gunmen when a bullet ricocheted and struck him in the eye.

Blancornelas died of natural causes in November 2006.

Created in 1980, Zeta is one of the only publications to regularly run investigations on organized crime, drug trafficking, and corruption in Mexico’s northern states, where self-censorship is rampant. The cost of Zeta’s coverage of crime along the U.S.-Mexico border has been high: Héctor Félix Miranda, co-founder of the magazine, was assassinated in 1988, and co-editor Francisco Ortiz Franco was murdered in 2004. Adela Navarro Bello, the weekly’s general director, was given an International Press Freedom Award by CPJ in 2007.