MEXICO CITY — The leader of one of Mexico’s most violent and feared drug organizations, the Zetas, was captured Monday in a city near Texas, an emphatic retort from the new government to questions over whether it would go after top organized crime leaders.
The man, Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, 40, who goes by the nickname Z-40 and is one of the most wanted people on both sides of the border, was detained by Mexican marines Monday morning, Mexican officials said at a news conference.
They said that he and two other men were taken into custody without a shot being fired and that Treviño was carrying $2 million.
Treviño has been wanted on drug charges in the United States, which has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture. The Zetas operate primarily in Mexico, but their drug trafficking and organized crime violence have spread to other countries, and they have been known to recruit members in Texas and launder money through the quarter-horse industry in the United States.
Started by former soldiers and once the enforcement arm of another large cartel, the gang is known in Mexico for its brutality, and its members’ calling card is often beheaded victims, body parts on highways, and bodies hanged from bridges.
Treviño is the highest-ranking and most sought-after drug capo arrested by the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico, whose aides had questioned the so-called kingpin strategy of his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, who had emphasized high-profile arrests.
The leadership voids, battles for turf, and confrontations with Mexican forces all sent violence soaring in the past several years, with tens of thousands dead or missing.
The new government had scoffed at the deep level of involvement of US law enforcement and security agencies in Mexico and restricted their access, causing some American officials and analysts to wonder whether it would be deeply committed to confronting the drug gangs.
But the arrest will probably give doubters some hope, experts said.