"Responding to the attack, this 'capo' [crime boss] died."

'King of Crystal'

Coronel, who has been indicted in the US, was said by officials to have been the number three leader of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, which is active in northwestern Mexico.

He was known as the "King of Crystal" for his dominance of methamphetamine production and trafficking, as well as cocaine.

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Al Jazeera's Mariana Sanchez, reporting from Mexico City, said Coronel's death marked "a major coup for President Felipe Calderon" in the four years of his so-called war on drug gangs in the country.

"Critics accused Calderon of protecting the Sinaloa cartel in his war on drugs", Sanchez said.

"They said he was only hitting rival cartels, not the Sinaloa cartel."

The US and Mexican governments both had outstanding arrest warrants for Coronel, while US authorities had offered a $5m reward for information leading to his capture.

The FBI deemed Coronel a major global narcotics distributor, "purchasing multi-tonne quantities of cocaine" from Colombian suppliers.

"Although the Ignacio Coronel Villareal Mexican Drug Trafficking Organisation is based in Mexico, the scope of its influence and operations penetrate throughout the United States, Mexico, and several other European, Central American, and South American countries," the Federal Bureau of Investigation said on its "Wanted" listing for Coronel.

Coronel was a close partner of Mexico's most wanted man, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, considered the country's top drug lord and the leader of the Sinaloa cartel.

Coronel's death marks the sharpest blow against the Sinaloa syndicate since the Calderon government took office.

"There are different theories as to what happens when a drug-lord is killed. Experts say that it is not difficult for the cartel to bring in a new drug-lord who can continue the operations," our correspondent said.

"We will have to see what happens in the long run."

Spiralling violence

Around 25,000 people have died in spiralling drug violence since December 2006, when the government launched its military crackdown on organised crime, including 7,000 this year alone.

 
Military officials said Coronel was killed while resisting arrest [Reuters]

The bodies of 15 people, many bearing marks of torture and bullet wounds, were found on Thursday along a road in northern Mexico near the US border, a Mexican official said.
  
The bodies were found on a highway leading from Ciudad Victoria to Matamoros, not far from the US border city of Brownsville, Texas.

Officials said the victims had "their hands tied, their eyes blindfolded and bore visible signs of torture" including obvious head injuries. 

The authorities have blamed much of the country's spiralling violence on fighting between the Sinaloa cartel and the brutal Zetas gang, which has recruited former elite soldiers.

The violence has turned particularly grisly and brazen this year, as the cartels apparently engage in reprisal attacks and seek to disable one another in battles for control of lucrative trafficking routes.