Mexico nabs Zetas drug cartel leader 'Z-42'

Mexico City (AFP) - Mexican authorities captured Zetas drug cartel leader Omar Trevino, dealing a blow to the feared gang and giving the embattled government a second major arrest in a week.

The suspect, known as "Z-42," was detained without a shot being fired by federal police and soldiers in San Pedro Garza Garcia, an upper-class suburb of the northern industrial city of Monterrey, officials said.

Trevino, who had a combined bounty of $7 million on his head, took over the Zetas after his brother, Miguel Angel Trevino, or "Z-40," was captured by marines in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas in July 2013.

He was considered "one of the most dangerous and bloodthirsty criminals in Mexico," said Tomas Zeron, the investigations chief at the attorney general's office, adding that Trevino is accused of organized crime, kidnapping and drug trafficking.

Hours after his capture, the portly cartel honcho was wearing a button-down shirt, exposing a chest tattoo, as he was flanked by two soldiers with camouflage face-paint and hauled into an armored truck at the Mexico City airport.

His fall comes on the heels of another major coup for the government, the capture last Friday of Mexico's most-wanted man, Knights Templar cartel leader Servando "La Tuta" Gomez.

The arrests give President Enrique Pena Nieto, who is on a state visit to London, major victories over drug cartels amid public anger over his government's handling of security, particularly the investigation into the disappearance and alleged murder of 43 college students.

US Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart congratulated Mexico, saying the arrest "strikes at the heart of the leadership structure of the Zetas."

The US State Department had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. Mexico offered $2 million. His age was listed at 38 by Mexico and 41 by Washington.

- 'Extremely violent' -

The Zetas are considered one of the most cruel criminal organizations in Mexico, accused of melting enemies in a barrel of "stew," slaughtering 72 migrants in August 2010 and igniting a fire that killed 52 people in a Monterrey casino in 2011.

The group, founded by former elite soldiers, was originally the armed enforcer of the Gulf Cartel until the two groups split in 2010, unleashing a wave of violence in northern Mexico.

The government dealt a first blow to the Zetas in 2012 when top leader Heriberto Lazcano was killed in a gunfight with troops.

Despite lacking military background, the Trevino brothers rose through the ranks of the paramilitary cartel, which exploited migrants and stole gasoline in addition to smuggling drugs.

In 2010, Omar Trevino told an informant that he had killed more than 1,000 people while Miguel had killed 2,000, according to an affidavit filed in a US court for a case involving another Trevino brother in Texas.

But Omar Trevino was unable to exert control over the group, said National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido.

"Due to his extremely violent profile, he didn't get the recognition that his brother had within the organization. He faced opposition from local operators who sought to break away, a situation that led to more clashes within the criminal group," Rubido said.

- Leadership void -

Trevino was found after investigators tracked the movements of the cartel's finance chief, who visited several homes in the Monterrey suburbs, Rubido said.

In February, a person resembling Trevino was seen in one of the houses, prompting authorities to step up surveillance. Trevino had a small security team in an bid to "go unnoticed," he said.

While his arrest is a victory, analysts warn that capturing cartel leaders does not necessarily mean an end to drug trafficking or violence, and that it can create smaller, vicious splinter groups.

"With this I think that the Zetas are going to have a very large void in terms of leadership," Mike Vigil, a retired chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, told AFP.

"The big problem here, though, is that if the Zetas splinter into other organizations, then that can lead to violence in terms of the internal competition."