Mexico's navy has captured of one of the country's most-wanted druglords, Iván Velázquez Caballero, alias "El Talibán", a leader of the ultra-violent Zetas cartel.
His power struggle with the established leader of the Zetas gang, Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, is believed to have triggered a spate of massacres across central and northern Mexico in recent months.
Also known by his cartel code-name "Z-50", Velázquez Caballero was caught in the central northern state of San Luis Potosí on Wednesday evening. Full details of the arrest have yet to be made public, although the navy said: "A person who is presumed to be, and says he is, Iván Velázquez Caballero, has been detained."
He was paraded before the media yesterday in line with the normal practice in Mexico following the arrest of high-profile suspects. Masked marines displayed the burly, handcuffed suspect alongside two alleged accomplices and a table of guns and other contraband seized during his arrest.
It is thought that eight men shot to death and left hanging from a bridge this month in Nuevo Laredo, a border city opposite the Texan town of Laredo – territory controlled by Treviño Morales – may have been the work of Velázquez Caballero's foot-soldiers.They were responding to the slaying by Treviño Morales, known as "Z-40" or "the Executioner", of 14 of Velázquez Caballero's men. Their bullet-riddled bodies were discovered packed into a van in San Luis Potosí in August.
The Zetas cartel was founded in the 1990s by army deserters and quickly acquired a reputation for bringing military tactics and discipline – as well as massive firepower – to the drugs trade in Mexico. They initially worked for the Gulf cartel, based in north-eastern Mexico, providing the ground troops for its turf wars with other gangs. But the Zetas had a violent falling out with the Gulf cartel and have since gone independent, running their own US drug routes. The Mexican attorney-general's office had offered a reward of 30 million pesos (£1.44m) for information leading to Caballero's capture.
It was unclear last night whether anyone was claiming that bounty. But now that he appears to have been arrested, the implications remain uncertain for ordinary Mexicans worn out by drugs-related violence that has killed 60,000 people since the start of President Felipe Calderón's crackdown on traffickers in 2006. Some believe it could lead to a fall in the killings as Treviño Morales consolidates his position. Yet few would welcome more power for Z-40, whose ferocious reputation is partly based on his preference for the "stew" technique for eliminating opponents – placing them in an empty oil barrel, dousing them in petrol and burning them alive.
Mr Calderón is due to step down at the end of the year to be replaced by Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which governed Mexico from 1929 to 2000. Mr Peña Nieto has vowed to reduce the death toll from the drugs war, a promise many have interpreted as ordering the police and military to back off.