Drug King Pin Dies In Battle With Mexican Soldiers

Mexican troops have scored one of their biggest victories to date in their war on drug cartels. In a more than two-hour battle, Mexican troops killed the boss of drug bosses, Arturo Beltran Leyva. Observers fear Leyva's death will lead to more killings as others battle for control of the cartel.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now let's get an update on a war that is much closer to home. In the war on drugs in Mexico, a major battle took place this week. Mexican soldiers tracked down and killed one of the country's most powerful drug lords. That killing now has Mexican officials bracing for even more violence.

NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Mexico City.

JASON BEAUBIEN: It was a firefight that will go down in Mexican criminal folklore. Arturo Beltran Leyva was staying with his entourage in a luxury high rise in Cuernavaca. The week before, the cartel leader had slipped out of the military's grasp when they stormed his lavish Christmas party. This time the man known as the boss of bosses was surrounded.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

BEAUBIEN: In a gun battle that lasted more than two hours, Beltran Leyva and his gunmen used automatic weapons fire and grenades to hold off more than 200 Mexican troops. Six of his bodyguards died with him. The battle was captured on local television.

Arturo Beltran Leyva was the third most wanted man in Mexico and the highest ranking narco to fall so far in President Felipe Calderon's drug war. The attack on his condo was carried out by the navy.

Mr. JOSE LUIS VERGARA (Spokesman, Mexican Navy): (Spanish spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The spokesman for the Mexican navy, Jose Luis Vergara, said his troops found $40,000 in cash in the condo, along with five guns and more than 400 rounds of ammunition. President Felipe Calderon hailed Beltran Leyva's death as a major blow against organized crime.

Mr. VERGARA: Calderon!

BEAUBIEN: In this confrontation, Calderon said, three members of the Mexican Navy were injured by grenades and one of them died while receiving medical attention. Calderon said the operation was the result of an extensive intelligence gathering operation. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency also praised it as one of the most significant successes Mexico has had.

A spokesman for the agency said DEA information helped tracked Beltran Leyva to the condo.

(Soundbite of music)

BEAUBIEN: The cartel boss was allegedly injured last week during a military raid on his Christmas party. The party featured live music by Grammy Award winner Ramon Ayala and several other big name Norteno stars. The police are still holding Ayala, who's known as the accordion king, along with two dozen other musicians and 20 alleged prostitutes who were arrested at the fiesta.

Eduardo Guerrero, a security analyst who writes about drug violence in Mexico, says the killing of Arturo Beltran Leyva is a very significant event but also potentially a very dangerous one.

Mr. EDUARDO GUERRERO (Security Analyst): When you arrest or kill a drug lord, what you have immediately is more violence, fragmentations of the cartels, and a more competitive market in terms of drugs.

BEAUBIEN: He says drug prices go down and production goes up as all the cartels fight to grab a piece of the weakened cartel's market. Guerrero points out that after Arturo's brother, Alfredo Beltran Leyva, was arrested in 2008, Arturo and his gunmen went to war against both their rivals and the government.

Mr. GUERRERO: They killed the son of Lechappa Guzman(ph), the leader of (unintelligible) cartel, and they killed also the people who captured his brother that were top officials in the Ministry of Public Security and the Federal Police.

BEAUBIEN: Public security officials in Mexico stressed yesterday that they plan to move quickly to prevent a wave of violence in the wake of Wednesday's killing. But Arturo Beltran Leyva controlled a multibillion-dollar-a-year drug trafficking organization. Guerrero says Arturo left no clear successor and an internal power struggle is likely. He also predicts that the Sinaloan cartel will attack them relentlessly.

Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.

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