Attorney General's Office/handout/Reuters

Mexico arrests suspected drug cartel boss

Authorities are conducting DNA tests to confirm they nabbed Héctor Beltrán Leyva

Héctor Beltrán Leyva, alleged head of a family crime syndicate that waged a bloody conflict in Mexico with a former ally, suspected drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán, was captured on Wednesday, an interior ministry source said.

Officials said the purported head of the Beltrán Leyva drug gang was captured inside a seafood restaurant in the city of San Miguel de Allende, a popular enclave for foreigners and artists in the central state of Guanajuato.

No shots were fired in the lightning raid conducted by military special forces to end an 11-month investigation, federal criminal investigations chief Tomás Zerón said at an evening news conference.

Officials said DNA tests were being carried out to confirm the suspect's identity, and Zerón said while the results were still forthcoming it was clear the man was Beltrán Leyva.

The arrest of the alleged Beltrán Leyva drug cartel boss will likely be a serious blow to the gang, which has been substantially weakened since its founding by brothers who gave the outfit its name and split from Guzmán, accusing him of betraying them.

The detention of Beltrán Leyva marks another major victory for President Enrique Peña Nieto, who has sought to shift the focus away from combating drug violence and onto a raft of economic reforms he has pushed through Congress.

Beltrán Leyva is allegedly the leader of a cartel named after his brother Arturo, who was killed by Mexican troops in a shootout in late 2009. The U.S. government says the cartel is responsible for trafficking cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine.

Héctor Beltrán Leyva has been indicted in courts in the District of Columbia and New York. U.S. authorities had offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his capture

Beltrán Leyva fought a war with former ally, Guzmán, who was Mexico's most powerful narcotrafficker until his arrest in February by marines after more than a decade on the run following his escape from prison. Guzmán was believed to be the main supplier of drugs to the United States and many other countries.

By the time he was caught, Héctor Beltrán Leyva, 49, was the only one of the clan's brothers known to be involved in drug trafficking not dead or behind bars.

When Mexican special forces arrested Alfredo in early 2008, the brothers reportedly believed Guzmán had betrayed their sibling to the government, sparking a war with Mexico's most wanted man and his powerful Sinaloa Cartel.

Over the next three years, the rupture with Guzmán ushered in a new brutality to the criminal violence that dominated the 2006-2012 administration of then-President Felipe Calderón.

In May 2008, four months after the capture of Alfredo Beltrán Leyva, gunmen shot dead Edgar Guzmán, a 22-year-old son of the Sinaloa boss, and the bloody spiral of exchanges between the two gangs sowed chaos in cities across northern Mexico.

By 2010, the Beltrán Leyvas had lost several leaders and Héctor Beltrán Leyva was in control, according to authorities.

Héctor was born in 1965 in the northwestern state of Sinaloa. His gang had a reputation as one of the most vengeful and ruthless in the business.

When Héctor's older brother Arturo was cornered and killed by Mexican marines in December 2009, the government honored one of the young marines slain in the raid and images of his funeral were broadcast nationwide.

The next day, gunmen swept into the family home and killed the marine's mother, sister, brother and an aunt.

Last November, the U.S. Treasury Department said the cartel appeared to be reorganizing and regaining some power.

"Obviously this is not the Beltrán Leyvas' organization in its strongest moment ... but it continues to be a criminal organization capable of generating localized violence in some states," said Mexican security expert Jorge Chabat.

Zerán said Beltrán Leyva had adopted a "moderate profile" after becoming head of the cartel to avoid detection. The investigation determined he had made his home in the central state of Querétaro, where he passed himself off as a businessman selling art and real estate.

He was tracked to San Miguel de Allende and taken into custody along with a man suspected of being involved of the cartel's finances.The Beltrán Leyva cartel diversified into numerous side businesses, including money laundering, extortion, human trafficking, contract killings and arms smuggling.

In January, authorities captured Dionicio Loya Plancarte, alias "El Tio," or The Uncle, in Morelia, the capital of Michoacán, and Ruben Oseguera González, known as "El Menchito," in the Zapopan section of Guadalajara.

Another top drug capo, Zetas chief Miguel Ángel Treviño, was captured last summer by the Mexican navy's elite troops.

Al Jazeera and wire services


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