Authorities in Mexico searched today for gunmen who fatally shot an award-winning journalist who reported on the country's violent drug gangs. Javier Valdez, 50, was shot in the street yesterday near the premises of Riodoce, a Mexican news weekly he founded in his hometown of Culiacan in northwestern Sinaloa state, sources said. Valdez, who was an Agence France-Presse contributor, was the fifth journalist killed this year in a country plagued by drug violence and corruption, according to officials and media rights groups. "We are horrified by this tragedy and send our condolences to Javier's family and those close to him," said AFP's global news director Michele Leridon. "We call on the Mexican authorities to shed all possible light on this cowardly murder," she added. "Javier showed extreme courage by spending years investigating the powerful drug cartels in Mexico, knowing that he was risking his life in doing so." President Enrique Pena Nieto said on Twitter that he had ordered an "investigation of this outrageous crime." Protests were planned today to remember Valdez and to call for an end to the bloodshed. Valdez's brother Rafael said the reporter had been "very happy" in recent days and had not indicated that he had received threats. "He was very reserved when it came to his work. He never talked about it so as not to drag people into it," Rafael Valdez told AFP. "I asked him several times whether he was afraid.
He said yes, he was a human being. So I asked him why he risked his life and he replied: 'It is something I like doing, and someone has to do it. You have to fight to change things.'" A court source said forensic investigators were analyzing the crime scene. Mexico ranks third in the world for the number of journalists killed, after Syria and Afghanistan, according to media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The US-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) this month said "Mexico's press is caught in a deadly cycle of violence and impunity." Violence -- including killings of journalists -- surged in Mexico after the government launched a military campaign against drug gangs a decade ago. In response to that, Valdez founded Riodoce with two colleagues. It became a key source of news about the drug war in a state where other media self-censored for fear of violence. Over a nearly 30-year career, Valdez became one of the most renowned journalists in Sinaloa. The state is home to one of Mexico's most notorious drug cartels. "Being a journalist is like being on a black list," Valdez said at a launch of his last book about drug gangs. "Even though you may have bulletproofing and bodyguards, (the gangs) will decide what day they are going to kill you." His brother Rafael said Valdez had not indicated whether he had been working on any particular investigation lately. He had written about the Sinaloa drug cartel and its now-detained founder Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman. Valdez worked for the national daily newspaper La Jornada as well as Riodoce.