Mexico captures Zetas cartel leader in Peña Nieto’s biggest bust

July 16, 2013

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s armed forces captured the head of the Zetas drug cartel, the highest-ranking crime boss to fall since President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in December, the Interior Ministry said.

Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, known as “Z 40,” was taken into custody near the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo by armed forces who intercepted his pickup truck with a helicopter at about 3:45 a.m. Monday morning, Deputy Interior Minister Eduardo Sánchez told reporters that night. The military detained Trevino, 40, unharmed along with a man who appeared to be in charge of cartel finances and a bodyguard, Sánchez said. Eight weapons and $2 million were seized during the operation.

Trevino’s apprehension comes as Peña Nieto has pledged to use intelligence information to bring down drug-related violence that has left more than 60,000 dead since December 2006. Trevino, accused of orchestrating a mass killing of 265 migrants in northern Mexico, had succeeded Heriberto Lazcano, who was killed in a gun battle with police in October.

“This investigation began with the start of Enrique Peña Nieto’s government,” Sánchez said. “It’s been a very significant work of intelligence.”

The Zetas have perpetrated some of the most violent crimes in Mexico’s war against cartels, including massacres of immigrants passing through Mexico on their way to the U.S. and a casino fire that killed 52 in Monterrey in 2011.

At the time of Lazcano’s death, Trevino Morales was widely seen as his successor. He and his brothers were also among 14 people indicted last year by a federal grand jury in Texas with laundering drug proceeds through an operation that bought, bred and raced quarter horses in the U.S.

The Zetas, who were created by the Gulf Cartel to fight rival gangs, broke away from their former bosses and have gained power even as the Gulf Cartel has been weakened by deaths and arrests. The Zetas evolved from a group of deserters from the Mexican Special Forces.

In May 2012, the Zetas were tied to the massacre of 49 people whose bodies were found dumped along a highway near Monterrey with their heads, hands and feet cut off.

A banner left behind attributed responsibility to the group. The gang was also blamed for a mass grave with 72 bodies, believed to be undocumented migrants heading to the U.S., found near Texas in August 2010.

The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City on Monday night sent an emailed statement congratulating Mexican authorities on the raid.

“This is yet another advance by the people of Mexico in the dismantling of organized crime,” the embassy said.

© 2013, Bloomberg News

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