- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 13, 2011

MEXICO CITY — Mexican authorities said Tuesday that an alleged founder of the Zeta drug cartel had an arsenal of 169 guns when he was captured Monday, and may have been linked to the abduction of nine Mexican marines.

Navy spokesman Jose Luis Vergara said suspect Raul Lucio Hernandez Lechuga oversaw Zeta operations in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, where nine marines disappeared earlier this year.

Mr. Vergara said a suspect was killed and a marine wounded in a firefight that erupted during Mr. Hernandez Lechuga’s capture Monday in the Veracruz state city of Cordoba.

The arrest was the result of a yearlong intelligence operation, Mr. Vergara said.

Marines found 133 rifles, five grenade launchers, 29 grenades and 36 pistols at the scene of the raid near a highway. Marines also found bulletproof vests with the letter “Z,” the Zeta symbol, on the front.

Mr. Vergara said Mr. Hernandez Lechuga was one of Mexico’s 37 most-wanted drug traffickers, and that with his arrest, 22 of those 37 have either been killed or detained.

The Zetas have been linked to some of the apparent abductions of Mexican marines, but Mr. Vergara didn’t say what specific evidence authorities had of Mr. Hernandez Lechuga’s involvement in the cases.

The apparent abductions of Mexican navy personnel have been shrouded in mystery, with the navy previously acknowledging that three marines and a navy cadet were abducted by suspected drug cartel gunmen in August in Veracruz, the state’s largest city.

Later that month, the navy said it had found four bodies in a pit on the outskirts of Veracruz city, and that the remains might be those of the missing military men, but never publicly confirmed their identities.

At a Tuesday press conference, where Mr. Hernandez Lechuga and four suspected associates were paraded before the news media, Mr. Vergara said a total of nine marines had disappeared, but didn’t say whether any of them had been found.

Mexican drug cartels have kidnapped and killed military personnel previously, but such incidents remain relatively rare.

Mr. Hernandez Lechuga was the leader of the Zetas in about 10 states, including Veracruz.

The Zeta organization was formed by a small group of elite soldiers based in Tamaulipas state, across the border from Texas, who deserted to work for the Gulf drug cartel in the 1990s.

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