December 2, 2009 / 2:44 AM / 9 years ago

Drug hitmen in suits kill key witness in Mexico

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Suspected hitmen wearing dark suits shot dead a protected state witness in a Starbucks cafe in Mexico City on Tuesday, days after another witness was found dead.

Two assassins shot former federal policeman Edgar Enrique Bayardo several times as he sat in the busy coffee shop, the capital’s prosecutor’s office said. Police said both assailants escaped.

Bayardo’s bodyguard was seriously injured and a customer at an adjacent table was also hurt, Mexico City district prosecutor Jaime Slomianski said.

Photos showed Bayardo’s body lying on the floor surrounded by paper coffee cups.

“It was fairly full when these men in suits came in. Everyone threw themselves on the floor in fear,” an eyewitness told Reuters.

Bayardo was arrested last year, accused of working for the powerful Sinaloa cartel and its drug kingpin Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, during an anti-corruption sweep of Mexico’s federal police and its special organized crime bureau.

Bayardo, who raised suspicions with his luxury cars, art collection and upscale home, was made a witness under the protection of the attorney general’s office.

Late last month, Zambada’s nephew Jesus Zambada, another witness, was found dead in a house guarded by police.

Officials at the Mexico City prosecutor’s office said hitmen had been following Bayardo for several days. It was unclear why the former policeman was not better protected or why he was out in public.

More than 15,000 people have died in Mexico’s drug war since President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006.

Massive army deployments in cities such as Ciudad Juarez on the U.S. border have failed to quell the cartel turf war.

Reporting by Robin Emmott, editing by Alan Elsner

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