Tags: drug | hitman | caught

Mexican Police Catch Top Tijuana Drug Hitman

Sunday, 16 Mar 2008 08:28 AM

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TIJUANA, Mexico -- Mexico captured a high-ranking Tijuana drug cartel hitman on Saturday, the public security ministry said, the second big arrest to hit the organization in five days.

Saul Montes de Oca, known as "El Ciego" (the blind guy) and close to cartel bosses, was arrested as he was about to take part in a car race in the tourist resort of San Felipe, the Baja California state attorney general's office said.

Montes de Oca is suspected of being a top killer at the powerful cartel, also called as the Arellano Felix Organization and known for its gruesome torture and execution methods.

He also faces extradition to the United States where he is wanted on organized crime charges, the ministry said.

Police had been tracking him for five months and got a breakthrough this week when they dismantled a kidnapping ring whose leaders said they reported to him.

The capture was also helped by the arrest on Tuesday of another senior Tijuana operative, Gustavo Rivera Martinez, who is being extradited to the United States to face drug charges.

Montes de Oca worked for Rivera Martinez, handling drug cargo movements and abductions, the security ministry said.

The arrests were the latest in a series of victories for President Felipe Calderon's 15-month-old army crackdown on drug traffickers and the latest blow to the Tijuana gang, which has seen a string of its leaders jailed or killed in recent years.

The feared Arellano Felix family controls drug routes in the northwestern state of Baja California, including around the busy border crossing of Tijuana, where it fights for turf with the Sinaloa alliance that controls most of western Mexico.

Montes de Oca was involved in a 1997 assassination attempt on a renowned Tijuana journalist who exposed drug gang crimes.

Half a dozen raids on the Tijuana cartel this year have put around 30 mid-level operatives behind bars. A bust this month of one of its safe houses turned up a huge arsenal of weapons, including guns decorated with gold skulls.

One former Tijuana cartel boss was released from a U.S. jail this month and returned home, but with many of the rest of the clan of sibling leaders still in prison, analysts believe a sister is now in charge.

Calderon sent some 25,000 soldiers and federal police to drug hotspots on taking office in December 2006, and sent extra troops to Tijuana in January to curb a spike in violence.

Nationwide, drug violence killed more than 2,500 people last year and murders so far this year total more than 500.

© Reuters 2007. All rights reserved.

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