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Mexico admits identity mistaken in big drug arrest

Reuters, July 7, 2005

MEXICO CITY, July 7 (Reuters) - Mexico admitted on Thursday that a mustachioed middle-aged man it arrested last weekend was not the top drug lord that police had believed he was, the latest in a series of high-profile law enforcement bungles.

However, authorities continued to hold the man while probing possible links to the drugs trade, despite statements from relatives that he is a respected architect and not Vicente Carrillo, boss of the powerful Juarez drug cartel, as the government said it had suspected.

A senior government official admitted on Thursday it was not Carrillo after DNA test results came back negative.

"We have no doubt that this is not Vicente Carrillo," Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, the head of the federal police's organized crime unit, told reporters.

The attorney general's office earlier this week said two witnesses produced by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, had identified the suspect as Carrillo, who is reported to have undergone extensive plastic surgery to alter his face.

Carrillo is one of Mexico's leading drug barons and listed as one of the DEA's top 10 international fugitives with a $5 million reward on his head.

His capture would have bolstered President Vicente Fox's reputation as he seeks to crack down on violent drug traffickers.

Instead, the government was left red-faced by the latest error, which came after last month's mistaken arrest of a man authorities claimed was an international terror suspect. He turned out to be a harmless Lebanese-born tourist.

On Wednesday, a federal judge publicly lambasted prosecutors for shoddy work on a criminal case against several family members of Mexico's most wanted man, reputed drug lord Joaquin Guzman, who escaped from prison in 2001.

Judge Jesus Guadalupe Luna said he was forced to uphold a lower court decision rejecting arrest orders against a dozen Guzman family members due to prosecutors' "useless and faulty arguments" in appealing the decision.

More than 500 people have been killed this year in drug-related violence that has escalated since Fox launched a "mother of all battles" against drug gangs.

Last month, Fox sent hundreds of anti-drug troops to the Mexico-U.S. border. On Wednesday, a new police chief took over in Nuevo Laredo across the border from Texas, a month after his predecessor was murdered within hours of taking office.

But the violence continues, and one of the new police chief's senior commanders was murdered on Wednesday night.

The off-duty commander, Martin Gonzalez, was hit with two bullets to the head when gunmen opened fire with assault rifles from a moving vehicle and from behind a tree as he drove his luxury pickup truck in the city.

Two police officers who were with Gonzalez were wounded.

"I don't know what happened. It is like they were hunting us," said one of the officers, Guillermo Martinez, who suffered three bullet wounds in the attack.

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