MEXICAN marines nabbed the head of the ultraviolent Zetas drug cartel on Monday, giving the new government its biggest catch as it seeks to rein in violence, officials said.
Miguel Angel Trevino, alias “Z-40,” was detained in Nuevo Laredo, the northeastern Tamaulipas state city bordering Texas, along with two other people, officials said.
“They carried out an important arrest, of Miguel Angel Trevino, in the early hours of Monday,” an official from the federal attorney general’s office said on condition of anonymity. An interior ministry official also confirmed the arrest.
The Zetas are considered one of the most powerful and feared organized crime groups in Mexico, founded by former elite soldiers and known for their brutality.
Originally, the Zetas acted as the armed enforcers of the Gulf Cartel, but the two groups split in 2010, sparking brutal turf wars in the north of the country.
The Zetas are also engaged in a fight for lucrative drug routes to the United States against the Sinaloa cartel, led by the most wanted man in Mexico, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Trevino’s capture comes eight months after Mexican troops killed his predecessor, Heriberto Lazcano, in a gunfight in the northern state of Coahuila, only to lose Lazcano’s body hours later.
After Lazcano was killed last October, gunmen burst into a funeral home and stole his body, which has never been recovered.
Trevino is the highest-profile drug kingpin detained since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in December. The US government offered $5 million for information leading to his capture, while Mexico had a $2.3 million bounty.
Peña Nieto has pledged to implement a new strategy against crime, launching a crime prevention program and planning to create a militarized police force.
His predecessor, Felipe Calderon, deployed thousands of troops across the country after he took office in 2006 to crack down on drug trafficking.
While authorities captured or killed two dozen of the 37 most wanted drug capos during his term, Calderon’s time in office was marked by a staggering more than 70,000 drug-related murders between 2006-2012.
Stratfor, a Texas-based security consultancy, warned that Nuevo Laredo, “which is a Zetas stronghold, could see increased violence in response to his capture.”
Analysts say the capture of drug capos often leads to more violence because rivals battle to fill the power vacuum.
The Zetas are linked with some of the most gruesome crimes in Mexico’s drug war.
In August 2010, police found the bodies of 72 migrants from Central and South America at a remote ranch that were murdered by the Zetas drug cartel.
The gang is also suspected of being responsible for the arson attack on a casino in the northern industrial city of Monterrey that left 52 people dead in August 2011.
In another high profile case, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata was killed when suspected Zetas drug cartel members shot at his car in the central state of San Luis Potosi in February 2011.
And in September 2010, cartel gunmen fatally shot David Hartley, 37, as he jet-skied with his wife, Tiffany, on a lake straddling the Texas-Tamaulipas border.
The gang has also undertaken other activities, including extortion, stealing fuel from pipelines and trafficking migrants. It also has a presence in Central America, with authorities in Guatemala saying it is the main cartel in that country.
But the Zetas appeared to be fracturing last year, with a high-ranking military officer declaring in August that the cartel’s leader were feuding, fueling violence in the north.
The fight for control was apparently settled when troops killed Lazcano, allowing Trevino to fill the void. AFP