Mexican marines arrest presumed drug kingpin - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Mexican marines arrest presumed drug kingpin

MEXICO CITY – Mexican marines captured Sergio Villarreal Barragan, a presumed leader of the embattled Beltran Leyva cartel who appears on a list of the country's most-wanted fugitives, in a raid Sunday in the central state of Puebla, the government said.

The alleged capo known as "El Grande" did not put up any resistance when he was arrested along with two accomplices, a navy official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with department policy told The Associated Press. The President's Office later issued a brief statement confirming the arrest took place in Puebla, capital of the state of the same name.

Villarreal's capture is the fourth major blow delivered to drug cartels by Mexico's government in the past year. First came the death of Arturo Beltran Leyva on Dec. 16, 2009. Then soldiers killed the Sinaloa cartel's No. 3 capo, Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel, on July 29. And on Aug. 30 federal police announced the capture Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias "La Barbie." The two men are not related.

Villarreal, "El Grande," appears on a 2009 Attorney General's Office list of Mexico's most-wanted drug traffickers, with a reward of just over $2 million offered for his capture.

He is listed as one of the remaining leaders of the Beltran Leyva cartel, whose top capo, Arturo Beltran Leyva, was killed in a raid by marines outside Mexico City.

Villarreal's capture comes about two weeks after the arrest of Valdez Villarreal, another alleged capo linked to the Beltran Leyvas.

The once-powerful Beltran Leyva cartel split following the death of Arturo — known as the "Boss of Bosses" — which launched a brutal war for control of the gang, involving mass executions and beheadings in once-peaceful parts of central Mexico. The fight pitted brother Hector Beltran Leyva and Villarreal against a faction led by "La Barbie." Hector Beltran Leyva remains at large.

The Beltran Leyva brothers once formed a part of the Sinaloa cartel, but broke away following a dispute. An indication of the problems facing the cartel is that three of the four main blows dealt to drug gangs in the past year involve Beltran Leyva leaders or operatives.

More than 28,000 people have been killed in Mexico since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon launched a military offensive against the cartels soon after taking office.

In the central state of Morelos, police discovered nine bodies in clandestine graves Saturday in the same area where four more were recently found. The Public Safety Department said in a statement that all 13 victims were believed to have been killed on the orders of "La Barbie" in his battle for control of the cartel.

On Sunday, the military announced that it filed charges against four troops for the Sept. 5 shooting deaths of a man and his 15-year-old son along the highway linking the northern city of Monterrey to Laredo, Texas.

Authorities have said soldiers opened fire on the family vehicle when it failed to stop at a checkpoint, though relatives who were also in the car say they were shot at after they passed a military convoy.

The mother and wife of the two victims was also wounded in the shooting.

A captain, a corporal and two infantrymen are in custody in military prison and have been charged with homicide, the Defense Department said in a statement.

Mexico's military was already under scrutiny for this year's killings of two brothers, ages 5 and 9, on a highway in Tamaulipas, a state bordering Nuevo Leon.

The National Human Rights Commission has accused soldiers of shooting the children and altering the scene to try to pin the deaths on drug cartel gunmen.

The army denies the allegations and says the boys were killed in the crossfire of a shootout between soldiers and suspected traffickers.

The scandal renewed demands from activists that civilian authorities, not the army, investigate human rights cases involving the military.

More recently, soldiers killed a U.S. citizen Aug. 22 outside the Pacific coast resort city of Acapulco.

In a statement to police, an army lieutenant claimed that Joseph Proctor, who had lived Mexico for several years, shot first at the military convoy on a highway between Acapulco and Zihuatanejo.

The Defense Department says it is investigating the claim, which Proctor's father, William Proctor, says he found hard to believe.

By E. EDUARDO CASTILLO, Associated Press Writer

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