Mexican authorities suspect conspiracy in slaying of ruling party official


MEXICO CITY -- Officials investigating the assassination of a leader of the governing party said yesterday that several people might have been involved.

They also said that they misidentified a suspect who was detained at the scene of Wednesday's fatal shooting in Mexico City. It was Mexico's second political assassination in six months.

Officials say that as many as five people might have conspired in the death of Jose Francisco Ruiz Massieu, secretary-general of the party and an important ally of President-elect Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon.

Mr. Ruiz Massieu was shot once at point-blank range as he prepared to drive from a meeting at one of the party's office buildings in the city's business district.

Police initially said a man captured at the scene was the sole assailant. Officials identified him as either Joel or Hector Resendiz and saidhe was originally from Acapulco.

Yesterday, the government-owned newspaper El Nacional said the suspect was Daniel Aguilar Trevino, 29, a horse trainer from ++ the state of Tamaulipas. According to the article, the suspect said that two people who were not identified had paid him $50,000 pesos -- about $14,000 -- to shoot Mr. Ruiz Massieu. No motive was mentioned.

Publicly, law enforcement officials would neither confirm nor deny the account. But one person in the attorney general's office said that the article was accurate.

Officials said that although only one man actually fired at Mr. Ruiz Massieu, others knew of the attempt and helped carry it out. Witnesses had reported seeing other men either signaling or waiting to help the suspect escape.

Tamaulipas is considered the home of one of Mexico's most powerful drug-trafficking cartels. Officials close to the investigation say that drug traffickers might have ordered the shooting to send a message to the government, although no proof of that has yet been presented. Mr. Ruiz Massieu's brother heads the government's anti-drug efforts.

Some analysts find such an explanation plausible but unlikely and suspect the drug connection could be used by authorities to obscure political motives behind the shooting.

The investigation into the death of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the governing party's presidential candidate, March 23 also was marked by confusion and false starts. Authorities first said the man accused of the killing, Mario Aburto, acted alone. Then, in April, a special prosecutor announced that there had been a conspiracy. But the prosecutor was unable to prove it, and most of those who had been arrested were released. Mr. Aburto is awaiting trial.

Suspicions also remain high over the government's contention that a Roman Catholic cardinal slain in May 1993 was accidentally caught in rival drug dealers' cross-fire.

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