Mexican marines captured the head of the country’s ultraviolent Zetas drug cartel on Monday, giving the new government its biggest catch as it seeks to rein in violence.
Miguel Angel Trevino, alias “Z-40,” was detained in Nuevo Laredo, the northeastern Tamaulipas State city bordering Texas, along with two other people.
“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 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. Trevino is an ex-police officer.
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 US against the Sinaloa cartel, led by the most wanted man in Mexico, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Officials have described Trevino — born in Nuevo Laredo, but who spent part of his life in Dallas, Texas — as a brutal killer who liked to “stew” his enemies by plunging them in containers of oil and fuel that he would set on fire.
His capture comes eight months after Mexican troops killed his predecessor, Heriberto Lazcano, in a gunfight in Coahuila State, only to lose his corpse hours later.
After Lazcano was killed, gunmen burst into a funeral home and stole his body, which has never been recovered.
Trevino is the highest-profile drug kingpin detained since Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto took office in December last year. The US government offered US$5 million for information leading to Trevino’s capture, while Mexico had pledged a US$2.3 million bounty.
Pena Nieto has promised to implement a new strategy against violence, launching a crime prevention program and planning to create a militarized police force.
His predecessor, former Mexican president 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 more than 70,000 drug-related murders between 2006 and last year.
Stratfor, a Texas-based security consultancy, said that Nuevo Laredo, which is a Zetas stronghold, could see increased violence in response to Trevino’s capture. Analysts say the capture of drug capos often leads to killings 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 — all murdered by the Zetas 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 cartel members shot at his car in San Luis Potosi State in February 2011.