Top Mexican drug lord Ezequiel “Tony Tormenta” Cardenas died in a shootout with security forces on Friday in the border city of Matamoros across from Brownsville, Texas, Mexico’s government said.
Cardenas, brother of former Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas, rose to become one of the leaders of the gang after his brother’s extradition in 2007 to Texas, and was one of Mexico’s most-wanted drug kingpins.
“He died in a shootout with us,” a spokesman for Mexico’s navy said.
Two marines and three other suspected hitmen died in the joint navy and army operation in Matamoros, Alejandro Poire, the government’s national security spokesman, told reporters in Mexico City.
Hundreds of marines and soldiers flooded into central Matamoros on Friday morning and held an hours-long shootout with hitmen from the powerful Gulf cartel, terrifying residents who were trapped in shops and schools.
Helicopters flew over the port city and bridges into Brownsville were briefly closed as gunmen fought security forces with grenades and in running street battles.
Indicted in the United States, Cardenas had a $5 million bounty on his head and was accused of smuggling tonnes of narcotics across the border over the past decade.
Cardenas was also joint leader of the Gulf cartel, responsible for much of the violence in Mexico this year.
More than 31,000 people have been killed in a drug war in Mexico since December 2006 when President Felipe Calderon took office and launched his army-led crackdown.
Backed by Washington, Calderon has made it the central goal of his presidency to crush the cartels that earn an estimated $40 billion a year.
But the bloodshed, including the torture and butchering of captives by rival gangs, has overshadowed Calderon’s successes.