A senior member of the Zetas drug cartel, who is a close confidant of the gang’s leader Heriberto Lazcano, has been detained in northern Mexico, military officials said on Thursday.
Gregorio Villanueva Salas was captured on Monday in Mexico’s third-largest city, Monterrey, until recently a relatively safe haven from the drug wars that have claimed more than 50,000 lives here since the end of 2006.
Villanueva, nicknamed the “Czar of Piracy,” is accused of orchestrating attacks on schools, media outlets and military bases in Matamoros in the crime-ridden northeastern state of Tamaulipas, the authorities said.
Considered one of the main operators working for Lazcano, he told military interrogators before being paraded in Mexico City that 14 men found dead last week in a vehicle in Ciudad Mante in Tamaulipas belonged to his outfit.
Mexican officials announced on Wednesday that more than 50 alleged members of the feared Zetas criminal network — including two active duty policemen, women and children — had been arrested in the northern state of Nuevo Leon.
The arrests came on the heels of the indictment on Tuesday of the man believed to be the drug cartel’s second in command, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, along with 13 others in the US.
Trevino, who is still at large in Mexico, is accused of presiding over a vast money laundering operation that hid millions of dollars of drug proceeds in a US horse-racing and breeding syndicate.
The Zetas are believed to have come into existence in the 1990s, founded by deserters from the Mexican special forces hired as hitmen for the powerful Gulf gang.
The original group trained new members — including rogue soldiers from the Kabiles, a feared special forces branch of the Guatemalan military — and became known for its ruthlessness, particularly for beheading their victims.
They split from the Gulf cartel in recent years, sparking bloody turf wars as they set up their own trafficking operations.
Their Mexican strongholds include the eastern region of the Gulf of Mexico, and parts of the northern border states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.