Mexico City – The suspected leader of the Los Zetas drug cartel in the eastern Mexican state of Veracruz was arrested following a long shootout with marines, the Navy Secretariat said.
Raul Lucio Hernandez Lechuga, considered one of the "37 most dangerous criminals" in Mexico, was arrested Monday in the city of Cordoba, the secretariat said.
Hernandez Lechuga, known as "El Lucky," was captured "as a result of intense intelligence work," the secretariat said in a statement.
The drug trafficker, who was wanted in both Mexico and the United States, was arrested along with four associates.
The other suspects arrested in the operation were identified as German Hernandez Flores, suspected of being in charge of a unit that steals trucks; Nicolas Garcia Colorado; Rafael Mendez Espinosa; and Cristobal Salinas Vallejo.
Hernandez Lechuga is believed to be one of the founders of Los Zetas, which is led by Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, known as "El Lazca," and considered Mexico's most violent drug cartel.
Lazcano deserted from the Mexican army in 1999 and formed Los Zetas with three other soldiers, all members of an elite special operations unit, becoming the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel.
After several years on the payroll of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
Hernandez Lechuga is the subject of 11 investigations being conducted by federal prosecutors and faces charges in connection with the kidnappings of nine marines, some of whom were killed.
Hernandez Lechuga, who was paraded before reporters on Tuesday, was the subject of a reward of 15 million pesos ($1.1 million) being offered by the Mexican government and had a $1 million bounty on his head from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, Navy Secretariat spokesman Rear Adm. Jose Luis Vergara said.
The investigation of the suspected drug trafficker had been going for more than one year and was conducted with assistance from "domestic and foreign" agencies, Vergara said.
Hernandez Lechuga was detained after a shootout on the Veracruz-Mexico City highway in Cordoba.
One of Hernandez Lechuga's bodyguards was killed and a marine was wounded in the shootout, Vergara said.
Prosecutors accuse Hernandez Lechuga of being the top Los Zetas boss in Veracruz and of sometimes serving as the cartel's regional leader.
Hernandez Lechuga, who was also known as "Z-16" and "El Apa," operated in Hidalgo, Oaxaca, Puebla, Veracruz, Tabasco, Campeche, Queretaro, San Luis Potosi, Quintana Roo and Mexico states, the Navy Secretariat said.
Los Zetas has expanded its operations in recent years in Veracruz, where federal officials launched a security operation this year to deal with a wave of drug-related violence.
Marines seized 132 rifles, 36 handguns, a .50-caliber Barrett rifle, five grenade launchers, 2,641 ammunition clips, 28,000 rounds of ammunition and 29 fragmentation grenades from the suspects, the secretariat said.
Two trucks, two other vehicles, communications equipment, shirts bearing the logos of Mexican security agencies, bullet-proof vests with "Z" logos on them and U.S.-made camouflage uniforms were also seized.
Los Zetas has been blamed for several massacres in recent years in Mexico and neighboring Guatemala.
The cartel was accused of being behind the Aug. 23, 2010, massacre of 72 migrants, the majority of them from Latin America, at a ranch outside San Fernando, a city in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
The cartel has also been blamed for the massacre of 27 peasants in May at a ranch in Guatemala's Peten province, which borders Mexico and Belize.
Zetas gunmen set fire to the Casino Royale in Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon, on Aug. 25, killing 52 gamblers and employees trapped inside, most of whom died of smoke inhalation.