The notoriously violent leader of the Mexico-based drug cartel known as Los Zetas, whose bloodletting and butchery had become its trademark, was captured Monday by Mexican marines near the border city of Nuevo Laredo, intercepted in a pickup truck containing more than $2 million in cash.
Miguel Trevino Morales, 40, was taken into custody in a pre-dawn raid along a dirt road when a marine helicopter halted the truck just outside the border city of Nuevo Laredo, which has long been the headquarters of Los Zetas.
Trevino Morales, also known as "Zeta 40," was arrested with two companions, a bodyguard and an accountant, and Mexican authorities seized eight weapons from the vehicle, according to Mexican government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez.
In a statement, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration congratulated the Mexican government on the Trevino Morales arrest, noting that the drug boss had been wanted for years.
"His ruthless leadership has now come to an end," the DEA said. "Thanks to the brave men and women of the Government of Mexico, Trevino Morales will now be held accountable for his alleged crimes."
The statement described Trevino Morales as of one of the "most significant Mexican cartel leaders to be apprehended in several years" and pledged to continue to support the Mexican government "as it forges ahead in disrupting and dismantling drug trafficking organizations."
Recent law enforcement intelligence bulletins said Los Zetas had expanded its operations into the U.S., recruiting American prison and street gangs, and non-Mexicans, for its drug trafficking operations in Mexico and the U.S.
An FBI intelligence bulletin noted that "multiple sources" reported the shift in Los Zetas recruiting. The cartel sought to maintain a highly disciplined and structured hierarchy by recruiting members with specialized training, such as former military and law enforcement officers.
Trevino Morales is fluent in Spanish and English, and had established what U.S. authorities described as criminal contacts on both sides of the border.
The expansion of Los Zetas operations across the southwestern border has long been a concern of U.S. authorities. Trained as an elite band of Mexican anti-drug commandos, Los Zetas evolved into mercenaries for the infamous Gulf Cartel, unleashing a wave of brutality in Mexico's drug wars.
Violence continues to be Los Zetas' trademark.
"See. Hear. Shut up, if you want to stay alive," read a note written in block letters on blood-splattered poster board after a December 2009 killing spree in the border town of Reynosa, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from McAllen, Texas.
Los Zetas has used beheadings and dismemberments to punish rivals or betrayers, establish turf, terrorize citizens against testifying and press political leaders to collaborate. Many of the gang's targets have been Mexican military and police personnel, but U.S. law enforcement authorities also have come under attack.
As early as 2008, the FBI warned U.S. authorities that Los Zetas was attempting to gain control of drug routes into America and had ordered its members to use violence against U.S. law enforcement officers to protect their operations.
Los Zetas also has pushed its way into legal and illegal businesses by killing, kidnapping or extorting those in control. According to U.S. law enforcement and intelligence reports, gang members use their massive supply of weapons and high-tech equipment to instill fear to take over businesses.
Seeking to grab a larger portion of the $25 billion cocaine, heroin and marijuana market in the United States, Los Zetas is estimated to have between 1,000 and 3,000 hard-core members and 10,000 loyalists across Mexico, Central America and the United States.
A 2009 indictment handed up in federal court in Washington said Trevino Morales was actively involved in managing the activities of the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, including the coordination of cocaine and marijuana shipments into the U.S. and the receipt of bulk cash shipments into Mexico from the United States.
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