Mexico captures leader of brutal Zetas drug cartel
Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the brutal leader of the feared Zetas drug cartel, has been captured.
It is the first major blow against an organised crime leader by a Mexican administration struggling to drive down persistently high levels of violence.
Trevino Morales, known as "Z-40", was captured by Mexican marines in Nuevo Laredo, Mexican media reports said. His capture removes the leader of a corps of special forces defectors who splintered off into their own cartel and spread across Mexico, expanding from drug dealing into extortion and human trafficking.
Along the way, the Zetas authored some of the worst atrocities of Mexico's drug war, slaughtering dozens, leaving their bodies on display and gaining a reputation as perhaps the most terrifying of the country's numerous ruthless cartels.
The capture of Trevino Morales is a public-relations victory for President Enrique Pena Nieto, who came into office promising to drive down levels of murder, extortion and kidnapping but has struggled to make a credible dent in crime figures.
Trevino Morales' rise from the streets of Nuevo Laredo to the top of Mexico's drug trafficking world was fuelled by a brutality that stunned a population inured to violence. He began his career as a teenage gofer for the Los Tejas gang, which controlled most crime in his home town across the border from Laredo, Texas. He soon graduated from washing cars and running errands to running drugs across the border, and was recruited into the Matamoros-based Gulf cartel, which absorbed Los Tejas when it took over drug dealing in the valuable border territory.
Trevino Morales joined the Zetas, a group of Mexican special forces deserters who defected to work as hit men and bodyguards for the Gulf cartel in the late 1990s. Stories about the brutality of "El Cuarenta," or "40" as Trevino Morales became known, quickly become well-known among his men, his rivals and Nuevo Laredo citizens terrified of incurring his anger. "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 in Mexico City.
One technique favoured by Trevino Morales was the "guiso" or stew, in which enemies would be placed in 55-gallon drums and burned alive. Others who crossed the commander who be beaten with wooden planks.
Trevino rose to the top of the Zetas last year after leader Lazcano died in a shoot-out with Mexican marines in the northern state of Coahuila.
Trevino Morales was indicted on drug trafficking and weapons charges in New York in 2009 and Washington in 2010, and the US government issued a five million-dollar reward for information leading to his arrest. According to the indictments, Trevino Morales co-ordinated the shipment of hundreds of pounds of cocaine and marijuana each week from Mexico into the US, much of which had passed through Guatemala. He also moved bulk shipments of dollar bills back into Mexico, the documents say.