Brutal and bloody reign of Mexico’s ‘El Taleban’ drugs baron is over
Mexico’s military has struck a major blow against a faction of the hyper-violent Zetas cartel, arresting one of the most-wanted drug traffickers, Ivan Velazquez Caballero, known as “El Taleban”.
Velazquez Caballero has been fighting a bloody internal battle with top Zetas’ leader Miguel Angel Trevino Morales – that split was behind a recent surge in massacres and shoot-outs, particularly in northern Mexico.
Masked marines displayed the burly, handcuffed suspect alongside two alleged accomplices and a table of guns and other items seized during his arrest.
He is the third alleged cartel leader to be taken into custody this month. All are accused of leading factions of the Gulf Cartel or Zetas, former allies now feuding over valuable smuggling territory along the US border. The heads of the two main factions of the Gulf group, Mario Cardenas Guillen and Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, were seized in northern Mexico.
In the waning months of Felipe Calderon’s presidency, the arrests add to the list of cartel figures taken out of action as part of his strategy of removing the leadership of drug-smuggling organisations.
The Zetas are one of Mexico’s two most powerful cartels. The head of the other, Sinaloa cartel head Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, remains free.
Mexican navy spokesman Jose Luis Vergara said marines acting on unspecified intelligence had been conducting patrols in the city of San Luis Potosi when they spotted a group of men leaving a house. When the men spotted the marines, they moved suspiciously back into the house and the marines followed, arresting Velazquez Caballero and two other men inside.
The arrests could calm some of the brutal violence that has hit northern states in recent weeks, although Mexican officials said they believed fighting could restart in weeks or months as a fight begins for the arrested man’s former territory.
Also known as “Z-50”, Velazquez Caballero had a $2.3 million reward on his head.
On 14 September, eight men were found shot to death and one hanging from a bridge in Nuevo Laredo, territory traditionally controlled by Trevino Morales, alias “Z-40”. Analysts say 14 bullet-ridden bodies stuffed in a van in mid-August in San Luis Potosi were men loyal to “El Taleban” and may have been left there as a warning by Trevino Morales’ underlings.
A US intelligence officer in Mexico, who cannot be named for security reasons, said earlier this week: “I think right now the uptick that I’m seeing is between ‘40’ and ‘50’,” referring to Trevino Morales and Velazquez Caballero by their “Z” aliases.
The Zetas cartel takes its name from a police radio code in which “Z” means “commander”, and a number refers to rank.
The US official said Velazquez Caballero appeared to have formed an alliance of convenience with the semi-religious Knights Templar cartel based in southern Michoacan state for his fight with Trevino Morales.
Banners signed by various elements of the Zetas and hung from bridges in several Mexican states recently appeared to confirm mutual hatred between Trevino Morales and Velazquez Caballero. In the obscenity-laden banners, the two accused each other of betraying fellow traffickers and preying on civilians.
Mr Vergara said Velazquez Caballero had controlled drug-smuggling territory in the states of Zacatecas, Aguascalientes and parts of Guanajuato and Coahuila, and also commanded Zetas foot soldiers in the city of Monterrey. He was also described as the one-time financial head of the Zetas, with responsibility for money laundering.
The Zetas are already considered the hemisphere’s most violent criminal organisation. They have been blamed for a large share of the tens of thousands of deaths in Mexico’s war on drugs.
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