Mexican authorities confirmed that Ezequiel “Tony Tormenta” Cardenas Guillen — one of the two leaders of the Gulf Cartel and a pivotal figure in recent border drug wars — was killed in a shootout in Matamoros Friday.
Violence across the city throughout the day left at least 47 others dead, including a reporter for a Matamoros newspaper, sources with knowledge of the situation said.
Three of Cardenas Guillen’s aides, or bodyguards, were also killed, according to Alejandro Poire, spokesman for the Mexican government. He gave no other information other than confirming the death of Cardenas Guillen and his aides.
Two Mexican soldiers also were killed, according to a release Friday night by the Mexican navy. That statement gave a total of six dead in Matamoros and said that “as of 7:45 p.m. it had no confirmation” of a death toll of more than 40.
Cardenas Guillen has long been sought by both U.S. and Mexican authorities. There is an indictment against him and Eduardo “El Cos” Costilla from a U.S. District Court in which the two are named as leaders of the Gulf Cartel.
Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen is the brother of Osiel Cardenas Guillen, who formerly was the head of the Gulf Cartel. Osiel Cardenas Guillen was caught in Matamoros in 2003, extradited to the United States and convicted of drug trafficking.
Sources said that all the gunfire across Matamoros Friday appeared to be related to the search for and encounter with Cardenas Guillen.
The fighting involved members of the Gulf Cartel, the Zetas, Mexican federal police and military officials.
The violence continued into Friday night and spread from Matamoros to Reynosa, officials confirmed.
At about 9:15 p.m., an explosion was reported in Plaza Real, the busiest shopping center in Reynosa — just two days earlier, a grenade detonated in a car in the very same parking lot.
The plaza is located four miles southeast of the Hidalgo-Reynosa International Bridge.
The Mexican army in Reynosa also confirmed blockades on various roads connecting Matamoros and Reynosa Friday night. Another blockade was reported on Highway 2, which slowed traffic near the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge.
“Those blockades stem from an aggression against Navy personnel,” a Mexican army official said in Spanish. “We do not know who is doing the blockades; we do not have that information,”
However, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers said it was business as usual on the northern side of the bridges. And U.S. Border Patrol agents didn’t see any evidence of the violence spilling over the border Friday night, spokesman Daniel Milian said.
“As always we are on alert with everything that is going on over the border,” he said. “We always try to be proactive instead of waiting for things to happen. We tell our agents to be cautious and prepared for anything.”
Gunfire was reported in Matamoros in a number of incidents beginning Friday morning, with at least 30 people dead by around noon, according to a law enforcement official who did not wish to be identified.
During the day, at least three Mexican military helicopters were seen circling near the Gateway International Bridge and there were unconfirmed reports that the aircraft may have been firing from the air.
In the afternoon, a major confrontation near the Matamoros city hall killed at least 17 more people, the official said. He said heavy-caliber weapons and rocket-propelled grenades were involved in the fight.
Some of the fighting in the morning reportedly occurred on Calle Alvaro Obregon near the Hotel Residencial. Grenades were thrown at the hotel, where Mexican federal police are known to gather. It is close to B&M International Bridge, and the street was temporarily sealed off.
Shootings also were reported along Avenida del Niño and in the Colonia Mariano Matamoros. Another shooting took place near the outskirts of the city along the highway to Reynosa. It is believed a convoy of Zetas clashed with the Gulf Cartel before authorities arrived, law enforcement officials said.
Around noon, Carlos Alberto Guajardo, 37, a reporter for the newspaper El Expreso, was reported killed. Sources with knowledge of the incident said Guajardo apparently was shot by soldiers who were chasing suspected narcotics traffickers.
Sources said he was killed along Avenida Pedro Cardenas in Fraccionamiento Victoria when his white pickup somehow got in the middle of the chase and wound up directly behind a green Tahoe said to be driven by drug traffickers. Some believe he may have been mistaken for a drug cartel member.
After Guajardo’s truck was struck by bullets, troops pulled alongside the vehicle and further sprayed it with gunfire, according to a source who said he spoke with an eyewitness. The source claimed that the truck had over 20 bullet holes.
The source said that when the military left to continue their chase, a homeless man broke into the reporter’s truck and tried to steal photographic equipment, only to be arrested by authorities who arrived to investigate the shooting.
The U.S. Consulate in Matamoros issued a statement Friday evening warning U.S. citizens to “maintain a high level of vigilance” and “take steps to bolster their personal security.”
The statement noted that restrictions had been placed on personnel of the consulate and their families, prohibiting travel outside of immediate residential areas between midnight at 6 a.m. The policies are in addition to previous restrictions, which had recommended that travel be limited to daylight hours, the statement said.
The Monitor and the Brownsville Herald contributed to this report.