By William Booth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, March 30, 2010; A13
MEXICO CITY -- Mexican army soldiers have detained an alleged leader of a violent cross-border drug gang who authorities suspect is involved in the slayings this month of three people linked to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez.
Mexican officials on Monday announced the arrest of Ricardo Valles de la Rosa, 45, and described him as a leader of the Barrio Azteca gang, which carries out extortion, killings and drug trafficking. Citing court proceedings, the El Diario newspaper in Juarez described Valles as a professional hit man who was paid $2,000 a week to kill and who split his time between residences in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez.
Some U.S. and Mexican officials fear that the sensational daylight assassinations of the three people in Juarez on March 13 could represent a chilling escalation in the drug war because the three might have been targeted because of their ties to the U.S. government.
Lesley Enriquez Redelfs, 35, who worked for the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, 34, who was a detention officer with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, were returning home to El Paso from a children's party sponsored by the U.S. consul in Juarez on a sunny Saturday afternoon when their white sport-utility vehicle was chased and attacked by gunmen as they approached the international bridge.
A third person, Jorge Alberto Ceniceros Salcido, 37, of Juarez, whose wife, Hilda Antillon Jimenez, also worked for the U.S. Consulate, was killed at nearly the same time in another part of Juarez. He and his wife had also attended the children's party.
After the killings, U.S. agents and local sheriff's deputies swept through El Paso neighborhoods, arresting suspected gang members. Afterward, the Department of Homeland Security issued an alert warning that authorities had received uncorroborated reports that the Barrio Azteca gang had issued a "green light" to kill law enforcement officers in El Paso.
The killings have generated attention at the highest levels of government in both countries and were a source of tension and concern at a meeting last week in Mexico City between Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her counterparts. U.S. federal agents are assisting in the probe and passing along intelligence gathered on the Azteca gang and its ties to regional drug-trafficking organizations.
By Monday evening, authorities had released little information about the arrest of the Azteca gang member, leaving it unclear what motive, if any, the investigators suspect for the killings.