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Mexican drug lord killed in clash

One of the top three leaders of Mexico's most powerful drug cartel has died in a gunfight with soldiers, ending the long run of a mysterious "capo" considered a founder of the country's massive methamphetamine trade.

The death of Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel near the city of Guadalajara is the biggest strike yet against the Sinaloa cartel led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman - Mexico's top drug lord - since President Felipe Calderon launched a military offensive against drug traffickers in late 2006.

According to the FBI, which offered a five million US dollar (£3.2 million) reward for Coronel, 56, he was believed to be "the forerunner in producing massive amounts of methamphetamine in clandestine laboratories in Mexico, then smuggling it into the US".

General Edgar Luis Villegas said an army raid was closing in one of Coronel's safehouses in a suburb of the western city of Guadalajara, when the drug lord opened fire on soldiers.

"Nacho Coronel tried to escape, and fired on military personnel, killing one soldier and wounding another," Villegas said at a news conference in Mexico City. "Responding to the attack, this 'capo' died."

Villegas said the raid "significantly affects the operational capacity and drug distribution of the organization run by Guzman."

Coronel's downfall came amid persistent allegations that Calderon's administration appeared to be favouring the Sinaloa cartel, or not hitting it as hard as other drug gangs.

Those allegations have drawn angry denials from the President and his top law enforcement officials, who point to the 2009 arrest of Vicente "El Vicentillo" Zambada - the son of Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, Sinaloa's number two leader - as proof they were going after the gang. Guzman, Zambada and Coronel formed a triumvirate that ran Mexico's largest drug trafficking cartel.

Coronel's death is the biggest blow against Mexico's drug gangs since drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva and six of his bodyguards were killed in a raid on December 16 by Mexican marines in the central city of Cuernavaca.

An FBI statement on Coronel's drug trafficking organisation said "the scope of its influence and operations penetrate throughout the United States, Mexico, and several other European, Central American, and South American countries."

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