- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

MEXICO CITY Osiel Cardenas, reputed to be a drug lord and who once threatened U.S. drug agents at gunpoint to get out of his territory, was arrested yesterday after a fierce firefight with Mexican soldiers.
Three soldiers were wounded, one of them seriously, in the morning shootout with Mr. Cardenas' gunmen in Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, said Defense Secretary Gerardo Vega Garcia.
Mr. Cardenas commanded at least 300 gunmen throughout the border state of Tamaulipas, but Gen. Vega did not say how many participated in the shootout. He also did not say whether anyone else was arrested.
"Obviously, they put up resistance," Gen. Vega said, adding that Mr. Cardenas' arrest followed six months of intelligence work.
Mr. Cardenas, 35, who had a $2 million bounty on his head, is purported to have led the Gulf of Mexico cartel and is the third major drug boss toppled in the past year, Gen. Vega said.
Mr. Cardenas is wanted by the FBI on charges of organized crime, drug, money laundering and assaulting federal agents. Mexico has received a U.S. request for his extradition, but Gen. Vega said Mr. Cardenas "will face justice here in Mexico first" on drug, weapons and homicide charges.
Mexico generally extradites citizens as long they do not face a life sentence or the death penalty. Mr. Cardenas was flown to an undisclosed location to await arraignment.
Mr. Cardenas is believed to be linked to the killings of four Mexican drug agents in recent months.
But what most infuriated U.S. authorities was Mr. Cardenas' detention of two Drug Enforcement Administration agents investigating him in 1999. His henchmen surrounded the agents' car on a Matamoros street and forced them to stop at gunpoint.
The gunmen, some wearing Mexican police uniforms, kept their assault rifles trained on the DEA agents and their Mexican informant until a man identified as Mr. Cardenas emerged from the crowd. He demanded that the U.S. agents hand over the informant for execution.
"This is my territory," he was quoted as telling the agents. "You can't control it."
The Americans refused to hand over the informant to certain death and eventually were allowed to drive away, reportedly after telling Cardenas it would be a bad idea to kill U.S. agents. A $2 million reward was then offered for his capture.
The gulf cartel, which operates in northeastern Mexico, moves cocaine and marijuana into the United States, officials said, and was the strongest of the border cartels until 1996, when leader Juan Garcia Abrego was sentenced in Houston to 11 life terms for drug smuggling.
Federal prosecutors believe that Mr. Cardenas recently strengthened the cartel by forging an alliance with Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, suspected leader of the powerful Juarez cartel. That cartel operates in Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.

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