July 16, 2013 2:16 am

Mexico captures head of Zetas drug cartel

One of Mexico’s most brutal drug lords, Zetas cartel chief Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, has been captured by Mexican marines in a border town.

The seizure of “Z-40”, confirmed by US and Mexican officials, is the highest profile blow to Mexico’s organised crime scourge by Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration since it took power last December.

“This man was particularly brutal. Some of the worst acts of violence can be directly or indirectly attributed to him,” said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst. He said the Zetas were among Mexico’s most ruthless and deadly cartels, which had made a speciality out of illicit fundraising through extortion and kidnapping.

The Mexican government called a news conference to comment on the capture, which happened in the town of Nuevo Laredo bordering Texas, late on Monday.

The arrest of Mr Treviño Morales comes just nine months after Mexican security forces said they killed Heriberto Lazcano, the group’s then leader, and captured several suspected high-ranking Zetas members.

Among other things, the Zetas initiated the now-common practice of decapitating their victims. They are also thought to have been responsible for dozens of massacres, including the killing in 2010 of 72 undocumented migrants, who were believed to be heading north in search of work in the US.

“Z-40” was known for burning people alive in the clan’s infamous “stews”, but Mr Hope said the capture of its leader could touch off a bitter battle for control within what remains of Zetas and its illegally gained revenues.

Mr Treviño Morales himself graduated from washing cars and running errands for the Los Tejas gang to working as a hit-man for the Gulf cartel, which swallowed Los Tejas. His reputation was such that, as AP news agency quoted a US law enforcement official saying: “If you get called to a meeting with him, you’re not going to come out.”

Mr Hope hailed the capture of Mr Treviño Morales as a big victory for a government that has promised to combat homicide and crime levels, and said the arrest meant the Zetas cartel risked unravelling or fragmenting.

Timeline: Mexico’s crackdown on organised crime

Approximately 60,000 people are estimated to have been killed in drug-related violence since President Felipe Calderón launched a campaign in 2006 to target organised crime

The capture may have emasculated Zetas, a cartel Mr Treviño Morales is believed to have controlled for about eight years, but other Mexican cartels including the Sinaloa and Caballeros Templarios remain vicious and powerful.

Blamed for orchestrating deaths across the US border and indicted in the US and with a $5m bounty for drug trafficking and weapons charges, Mr Treviño Morales is also important for blossoming Mexico-US relations. President Barack Obama gushed about a new Mexico during a recent visit – since “Z-40” was widely considered to blame for northbound drugs trafficking as well as many migrant deaths.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2015. You may share using our article tools.
Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.


Sign up for email briefings to stay up to date on topics you are interested in