The national coordinator of Mexico's battle against organized crime was slain Thursday by an assassin hiding in his home in what appeared to be the latest revenge killing by one of the country's most notorious drug cartels.
Edgar Millan Gomez, 41, was the third leading federal security official to be killed in Mexico City in a week.
Police sources said the so-called Sinaloa cartel was behind the attack on Millan Gomez, the nation's third-ranking police official and acting director since April 1 of the Federal Preventive Police, an elite, 22,000-member force.
The Sinaloa cartel is one of several organized-crime groups that have grown rich transporting Colombian cocaine, locally manufactured methamphetamine and other illicit drugs to the United States.
The assassination came a week after Millan Gomez held a news conference in the capital of Sinaloa state to announce the arrests of a dozen suspected cartel hit men.
His killing is a dramatic escalation in the drug war, analysts said, and a clear indication that the Sinaloa-based traffickers have been hit hard by recent government raids and arrests.
Seven mid-ranking federal police officials have been killed in the last month. Like Millan Gomez, they were linked to recent actions against drug traffickers. In all, more than 1,000 people have died this year in violence related to organized crime, according to tallies kept by Mexican news media. Federal officials estimate that 2,500 people were killed last year.
"This morning, Mexico lost one of its most valuable men, a security professional who placed himself at the service of his country," Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna said in a news release.
Millan Gomez, a college- educated professional with 20 years of law enforcement experience, was the kind of man President Felipe Calderon is counting on to rebuild Mexico's tarnished and ineffective police forces.
Calderon, speaking at an event in the central state of Guanajuato, called the killing a "cowardly" act.
"The example of his life gives us strength to continue the struggle against those who attack the tranquillity and health of the Mexican people," he said.
Jorge Chabat, a professor and security analyst here, said the slaying of such a high-ranking official was a clear attempt by the cartels to send a message to Calderon's government.
"Their daily operations have been seriously hurt by the authorities, to the point that even their cash flow is affected," Chabat said. "This killing is intended as a warning. It's the only explanation for such a brazen action."
Millan Gomez was shot eight times at point-blank range about 2:30 a.m. at his home in the Guerrero district of central Mexico City.
Authorities said the assassin was waiting in the home when two bodyguards dropped him off after a long day at work. The guards heard gunshots from inside the house and went in to investigate. They came under fire but were able to detain a suspect.
The bodyguards were hospitalized with injuries that were not life-threatening.
Alejandro Ramirez, 34, was arrested at the scene. He was wearing latex gloves and was armed with a handgun fitted with a silencer, officials said. Media outlets reported that at least two people escaped.
Officials said Ramirez had served two prison sentences for auto theft. They released a photo taken moments after the arrest, showing a young man drenched in sweat, a bandage over the corner of one eye.
Drug-related violence has risen as the Mexican government has stepped up efforts to crack down on cartels. As many as 15 people were killed last month in Tijuana in a gun battle between organized crime groups. Last weekend, 16 people were killed in two ambushes, the first at a cattleman's convention, in southern Guerrero state.
Millan Gomez was a high-profile warrior in the government offensive that Calderon announced shortly after taking office in December 2006. He was responsible for coordinating the work of special task forces that united the efforts of federal police with the army and other agencies, a post he took in 2006 and continued to hold while acting as chief of the Preventive Police.
In his May 1 news conference in Culiacan, Millan Gomez announced that 12 suspected Sinaloa cartel hit men had been detained a day earlier after a shootout with soldiers and police officers. He displayed to the news media an impressive cache of weapons and more than $350,000 in cash.
Later that day, Roberto Velasco Bravo, director of a federal organized-crime unit, was shot down outside his home in Mexico City's upscale Polanco district. A day later, Jose Aristeo Gomez, chief of staff of Federal Preventive Police in Mexico City, was shot and killed in a southern district.
Millan Gomez was born in Mexico City and received a law degree from the Universidad del Valle de Mexico. He began his career in 1988 as an agent for Mexico's top intelligence agency, the Center for National Security Investigations.
He moved to the Federal Investigations Agency, the Mexican equivalent of the FBI, and eventually headed its anti-kidnapping unit. In 2005, his team rescued Ruben Omar Romano, coach of the Cruz Azul soccer team, after 65 days of captivity. A dozen people were arrested.
He also worked as an observer on United Nations peace missions.
Millan Gomez was involved, along with army and other police officials, in the seizure of 26 tons of cocaine in October at the Pacific port of Manzanillo. Authorities said the cocaine was destined for the Sinaloa cartel.
Millan Gomez was a trusted subordinate of public safety coordinator Garcia Luna, who has said Mexico needs to professionalize its police forces to win the war against organized crime.
Garcia Luna has tried to purge the federal police of corrupt elements, and introduced stricter standards and improved training for recruits. Last June, Garcia Luna suspended 284 top officials from the Federal Investigative Agency and Federal Preventive Police pending polygraph and drug tests.
At the Federal Investigative Agency, the increasing number of college graduates is gradually changing the culture there, Garcia Luna said in a news conference last year.
"The presence of people with a different perspective, people with a different ethic and training, is the starting point for the fight against organized crime," he said.
Jorge Fernandez, who has written extensively on the drug trade, said the killing marked an escalation akin to the violence set off by Pablo Escobar in Colombia in the 1990s.
"What's troubling here is that [the government] knew that a war of this nature was coming," Fernandez said in a radio interview.
"When the cartels are weakest is when they become most violent . . . And yet a commander as important as Edgar Millan had so little security."
Cecilia Sanchez of The Times' Mexico City Bureau contributed to this report.