The brutal leader of one of Mexico’s most notorious drug cartels, the “Los Zetas”, has been captured in a dawn raid in the gang’s heartland.
Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, known as “Z-40”, was arrested on Monday by Mexican marines outside his hometown of Nuevo Laredo, the gang’s headquarters on the border with the United States.
The marines intercepted a truck carrying Trevino Morales, $2m in cash, a bodyguard and an accountant and eight guns, government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said.
Sanchez said the Marines had been watching the area for signs of Trevino Morales, who is charged with murder, torture, kidnapping and other crimes in the US and Mexico.
Trevino Morales is described as one of the two most powerful cartel heads in Mexico, the leader of a corps of special forces defectors who created their own cartel in 2010 and expanded from drug dealing into extortion, kidnapping and human trafficking.
The arrest is a huge victory for Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto, as leaders of cartels were usually killed in the past when the police attempted their capture and all the intelligence would be lost.
The cartel may be the hardest hit by Morales’ capture as rival gangs could now test the strength of the Zetas by targeting the cartel’s territory.
More violence may however be witnessed among Zetas and rival gangs targeting it as one of Morales’ younger brothers slated to take over would want to prove he can take care of business.
Trevino Morales’ arrest comes eight months after Mexican troops killed his predecessor, Heriberto Lazcano, in a gunfight in the northern state of Coahuila, only for gunmen to steal the corpse hours later.
Some 70,000 people have been killed in cartel-related violence since the start of 2007, with many of the worst atrocities blamed on the Zetas, including the massacre of dozens of migrants in northern Mexico in 2010 and the dumping of 49 decapitated bodies near the city of Monterrey last year.
Trevino Morales began his career as a teenage runner for the Los Tejas gang, which operated in his home town of Nuevo Laredo.
He graduated to becoming a drug-runner into the US, and was recruited into the Gulf cartel when it took over in the border territory.
He later joined the Zetas, lead by a group of Mexican special forces soldiers who had defected to work as hit-men and bodyguards for the Gulf cartel in the late 1990s.
It was here where he became notorious for his brutality.
“If you get called to a meeting with him, you’re not going to come out of that meeting,” said a US law-enforcement official on secondment in Mexico City.
One technique used by Trevino Morales was the “guiso”, or stew, in which an enemy would be placed in a 55-gallon drum and burned alive. Others who crossed the commander would be beaten with wooden planks.
Trevino Morales is wanted for crimes in the United States, including drug trafficking and weapons charges. The US government had offered a $5m reward for information leading to his arrest.