Help to Be Asked in Probe of Chief's Death


The mayor said Monday that he will ask Mexican federal police to join the investigation of last week's assassination of the city's police chief, which he said appears to be the work of organized crime.

At an emergency meeting in which the City Council approved the designation of a former judge as the new chief of police, Mayor Hector Osuna Jaime said there has been little progress in the murder of Jose Federico Benitez Lopez and his bodyguard during a highway ambush Thursday night.

Because the killers used machine gun-type weapons, Osuna said he will ask the governor of Baja California to request the intervention of the federal judicial police. Federal authorities investigate crimes involving drugs and illegal heavy weapons.

"These are activities of organized crime, we feel, and it should be the federal authorities who investigate," Osuna said.

Although the mayor said it is not clear whether the city's powerful drug cartels were involved, he said of Benitez's murder: "We know that, perhaps without realizing it, we came into contact with very powerful interests."

The mayor's comments reinforced reports from law enforcement officials on both sides of the border who say Benitez was apparently killed in retaliation for anti-drug operations by the municipal police force.

The reform-minded chief was cut down by seven shots from a passing four-wheel-drive vehicle as he drove home. Seven suspects were arrested, but six were released and the seventh is being held on unrelated charges.

The state judicial police are investigating Benitez's death because homicide is a violation of state law. In an interview Monday, state police Cmdr. Jorge Alvarez Barriere said 12 detectives are working on the case.

The motive appears to have been revenge, Alvarez said, and the scenarios have "something to do with (Benitez's) work: guns, seizures and, yes, drugs."

But Alvarez did not say whether investigators have down their suspicion exclusively to drug traffickers. Nor did he say whether they have eliminated a connection to the assassination last month of ruling party presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio. That theory has received widespread attention because Benitez had considerable information on the Colosio case, had expressed doubts about the federal investigation, and was providing periodic reports to the governor on what he had learned.

Mayor Osuna said that, as far as he knew, Benitez had not gathered sensitive information on the Colosio assassination.

Osuna also confirmed that he received a death threat Friday in which a caller said: "The mayor is next." He has beefed up security at City Hall as a result.

Benitez's replacement is Victor Manuel Vasquez Fernandez, 44, a former judge, deputy attorney general and supreme court justice.

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