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Mar 4, 2015 5:54 PM

Mexico authorities arrest Zetas leader Omar Trevino Morales

The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY (AP) Mexican police and soldiers on Wednesday captured Omar Trevino Morales, widely considered to be the most important leader of the Zetas drug cartel that once carved a path of brutal bloodshed along the country's northern border with the U.S., a federal official said.

The official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name because of government policy, said the man known as "Z-42" was arrested in a pre-dawn raid in San Pedro Garza Garcia, a wealthy suburb of the northern city of Monterrey.

The Mexican government had offered a 30 million peso ($2 million) reward for his capture on weapons and organized crime charges.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration offered a $5 million reward for his capture, saying he was wanted for drug trafficking, but listed "Omar" as an alias and his given name as Alejandro. DEA spokesman Rusty Payne confirmed they are the same person, adding: "We certainly are excited and congratulate Mexico for another great arrest."

The suspect is the brother of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, described as the most bloodthirsty leader of Mexico's most violent cartel. Miguel Angel was arrested in July 2013, almost a year after Mexican marines killed the Zetas' other biggest leader, Heriberto Lazcano "El Lazca."

Omar apparently took over leadership of the Zetas after his brother's arrest.

The Zetas was originally a gang formed by deserters from an elite army unit and left a trail of brutality, bloodshed and mutilated bodies across northern Mexico during turf battles with the rival Gulf cartel. But much of the violence along Mexico's northeast border now is due to internal battles among Gulf cartel factions.

"The truth is that this is a group that has been fragmented," Javier Oliva, an expert on the drug war at Mexico's National Autonomous University, said of the Zetas. "Their influence is now more on a local level, in townships" rather than the broad, multi-state trafficking corridor they once controlled.

But Oliva said that doesn't mean the Zetas and their internal fight to determine a replacement for Trevino Morales won't turn bloody. He said gunmen or second-tier operators who were active under Trevino Morales may now seek to replace him.

"One would hope that the federal and state governments have taken precautions to avoid this arrest from causing more violence," Oliva said.

The capture of Omar Trevino Morales follows Friday's arrest of another big cartel leader, Servando Gomez, known as "La Tuta." Gomez allegedly led the Knights Templar, a pseudo-religious drug gang that built up control of many sectors of the economy in the western state of Michoacan before it was weakened by an uprising of citizen vigilante groups and a stepped-up federal security campaign.

The two arrests provided much-needed good news for the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto, who has been battered by a series of scandals in recent months.

"The government needed to show that some of its policies were successful," said Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University. "And in this case, without doubt the strategy against the drug cartels is going well."

Like Servando Gomez, Omar Trevino Morales was captured without any shots being fired.

The Trevino Morales brothers took proceeds from their U.S. drug sales and laundered them by purchasing American quarter horses. That scheme was led by Jose Trevino Morales, a third brother. A jury in Texas found Morales guilty in May of investing $16 million of drug money in the buying, training and racing of horses across the Southwest United States.


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