Gunmen shot and wounded the muckraking editor of a crusading Tijuana news weekly on his way to work Thursday morning in a gangland-style attack in which his security guard and one of the assailants died, the journal's staff said.
Staff of the prestigious Zeta news weekly said the gunmen drove alongside Jesus Blancornelas' car and fired on him at 9:30 a.m. Thursday as he was being driven to his offices in Tijuana's La Mesa district, killing his driver and bodyguard, Luis Lauro, according to a Zeta statement.
Blancornelas, 62, was rushed to the hospital, where doctors performed surgery to remove bullets from his thorax, abdomen and hand, staff members said. Placed in intensive care, he was reported to be in stable condition.
"We are very worried," said a member of his family, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Tijuana chief of the Baja state judicial police, Miguel Ruvalcaba, said the dead attacker carried a Mexico City driver's license that identified him as Javier Ortiz Calvo, 32. Ruvalcaba said police were investigating to determine who might be responsible for the attack.
The shooting of the award-winning Blancornelas marked the troubling resurgence in attacks on the press that have killed three journalists in a decade--including a top Zeta editor--in a border region with a history of aggressive reporting on corruption and drug trafficking.
In the blistering statement, the Zeta editorial staff blamed top Baja California officials, saying that they had recently withdrawn state bodyguards assigned to protect Blancornelas after judicial authorities insinuated to the press that he was involved in the April killings of two lawyers with whom he had feuded.
Blancornelas was never officially named as a suspect or asked to testify, and U.S. intelligence agents link the April crime to a cashiered Baja policeman who recently returned to Tijuana.
"We place direct blame on the governor of the state for the withdrawal of the security and for leaving [Blancornelas] in danger from his enemies with the irresponsible attitude of the state prosecutor," the Zeta statement said.
Spokesmen for Baja Gov. Hector Teran and state prosecutor Jose Luis Anaya were not immediately available for comment.
Authorities said it is unclear whether the assailant was killed by his fellow gunmen, who pulled alongside Blancornelas in two cars, or by the journalist's personal bodyguard.
Blancornelas has received numerous threats as the distinguished editor of the hard-hitting journal--considered among the best in Mexico--that regularly exposes official links to organized crime and the powerful families purportedly behind the Tijuana drug cartel. He has been involved in several well-publicized personal feuds as well.
Many observers view the border press as being in increasing danger from the wave of drug violence that has claimed the lives of 10 senior Baja law enforcement officers since 1994 in killings that have all the marks of highly professional hits.
No one has been convicted for any of the killings, and some of the victims were believed to be corrupt cohorts of traffickers.
The family of one of the victims, respected state prosecutor Hodin Gutierrez Rico, also accused state officials of removing his bodyguards shortly before he was killed in January.
In July, a gunman allegedly linked with drug traffic killed crusading editor Benjamin Flores, director of an investigative news weekly in the Sonora state town of San Luis Rio Colorado, a drug trafficking crossroads just east of the border from Baja. The Tijuana drug cartel's notorious "narco-juniors"--gunmen from well-to-do families who allegedly work with corrupt Baja state judicial police--are believed to be responsible for the killing of a young Tijuana freelance journalist two years ago.
Gunmen killed Hector Felix Miranda, a co-founder of Zeta--and one of Blancornelas' best friends--in 1988. The security chief and a security guard for Jorge Hank Rhon--the Tijuana businessman son of one of Mexico's most powerful and wealthy ruling party politicians, Carlos Hank Gonzalez--were sent to jail for the crime.
Blancornelas still runs a full-page ad every week, pointedly addressed to Rhon, demanding to know why his employees killed Felix, who was known affectionately in Tijuana as "Felix the Cat."