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Arizona inmate attacks jailer to stay behind bars

PHOENIX (Reuters) - An Arizona jail inmate who feared he would be killed by a Mexican drug cartel if were set free assaulted a detention officer in order to remain behind bars, authorities said on Tuesday.

Alexandro Guerrero, 26, was about to be released from Pinal County jail on April 17 when he repeatedly punched and kicked a detention officer, breaking his nose, Pinal County Sheriff's Office spokesman Tim Gaffney said.

After he was subdued, Guerrero told officers that he had sold drugs in Yuma, a town in western Arizona, for Mexico's powerful Zetas drug cartel, and feared release from the lock-up believing that the traffickers planned to kill him.

"At some point the cartel labeled him as a snitch because he was (providing) information to law enforcement, so they put out a hit on him to be killed," Gaffney told Reuters.

"He didn't want to be released, so he figured the best way to stay in custody was to punch one of our detention officers," he said.

Gaffney said Guerrero got his wish and is being held in jail on three counts of aggravated assault on a detention officer, on a $50,000 cash-only bond.

"It's a felony offense, so he's definitely looking at some prison time for it," he said.

The Zetas cartel was formed around a core of elite Mexican anti-drug commandos that went rogue several years ago. It is now one of the most brutal criminal gangs in Mexico.

The group is currently fighting an all-out war with the rival Gulf and Sinaloa cartels in Mexico's Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states south of Texas, although it also has operations in other states in northern and central Mexico.

(Reporting by Tim Gaynor; editing by Peter Bohan)