Mexican marines captured Sergio Villarreal Barragan, a presumed leader of the embattled Beltran Leyva cartel who appears on a list of the country’s most-wanted fugitives, in a raid in the central state of Puebla, the government said.
The alleged boss known as El Grande did not put up any resistance when he was arrested along with two accomplices as they left a residence in Puebla city, according to government security spokesman Alejandro Poire.
The raid involved 30 Navy marines, five vehicles and a helicopter.
“This is a new and resounding blow by the federal government against crime, given the high rank and dangerousness of this person inside one of the country’s most extensive criminal organisations which has been deeply weakened,” Mr Poire said in a statement.
Villarreal’s capture is the fourth major blow delivered to drug cartels by the government of President Felipe Calderon in the past year.
First came the death of Arturo Beltran Leyva, the top leader of Beltran Leyva cartel, in a raid outside Mexico City on December 16, 2009.
Then soldiers killed the Sinaloa cartel’s number three boss, Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, on July 29.
And on August 30 federal police announced the capture of Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias La Barbie. The two men are not related.
Mr Villarreal, El Grande, appears on an attorney general’s office list of Mexico’s most-wanted drug traffickers, with a reward of just over two million US dollars offered for his capture.
He faces at least seven investigations for alleged drug trafficking and organised crime, Mr Poire said.
He is listed as one of the top remaining leaders of the Beltran Leyva cartel following the death of Arturo, who was known as the “Boss of Bosses,” and the arrest of “La Barbie,” a former Beltran Leyva hitman and operative.
Mr Poire said the Beltran Leyvas “had constituted one of the groups with the largest presence in the country”, conducting operations in 32 Mexican states, including the capital.
But troubles began when Alfredo Beltran Leyva was arrested in 2008. Then the death of his brother Arturo the following year splintered the cartel, launching a brutal war for control of the gang, involving mass executions and beheadings in once-peaceful parts of central Mexico. Carlos Beltran Leyva was arrested a few days after Arturo’s death.
The fight for the remains of the cartel pitted Hector Beltran Leyva and Villarreal against a faction led by La Barbie. Hector is the last Beltran Leyva brother at large.
The Beltran Leyva brothers once formed a part of the Sinaloa cartel, but broke away following a dispute. An indication of the problems they face is that three of the four main blows dealt to drug gangs in the past year involve Beltran Leyva leaders or operatives.
More than 28,000 people have been killed in Mexico since December 2006, when Mr Calderon launched a military offensive against the cartels soon after taking office.