Mexico City – A high-ranking member of the Los Zetas drug cartel captured near the border between the northern states of Nuevo Leon and Coahuila is linked to more than 50 murders, including that of a U.S. agent, the Mexican government said Friday.
During the presentation of Jesus Sarabia Ramon to the media, Defense Secretariat spokesman Ricardo Trevilla said the suspect had ordered his henchmen to kill 50 people and kidnap and extort at least 20 businessmen.
He also linked the detainee to "countless attacks on police and military" personnel.
The arrest represents a major blow to the command structure of the Los Zetas criminal organization, particularly in Nuevo Leon and the neighboring state of Tamaulipas, Trevilla said.
According to authorities, Sarabia joined Los Zetas in 2005 in his hometown of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, and "quickly distinguished himself in that criminal structure due to his violent actions," becoming a trusted associate of its two top leaders, Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano and Miguel Angel Treviño Morales.
In late 2010, he was named the Zetas' regional boss in the states of Coahuila, Aguascalientes and San Luis Potosi, scene of the Feb. 15, 2011, murder of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata.
That attack was perpetrated by a Zetas cell led by Julian Zapata, who took orders from Sarabia, authorities said.
After he had ratcheted up the levels of violence in the three states where he had been assigned, "the Los Zetas leaders sent (Sarabia) to confront the Gulf cartel in Nuevo Leon and the northern part of Tamaulipas state," the secretariat said.
Sarabia was arrested Wednesday by personnel from a mixed operations base comprising soldiers and members of the "reaction force" of the Nuevo Leon city of Garcia, part of the Monterrey metropolitan area, it added.
Founded by deserters from an elite special forces unit, Los Zetas began as the armed wing of the Gulf mob, but ended that relationship in March 2010 to go into business for themselves.
Regarded as Mexico's most ruthless cartel, Los Zetas was behind last August's daytime arson attack on a Monterrey casino that left 52 employees and gamblers dead. Zetas gunmen allegedly torched the gaming establishment after its owner refused to pay protection money.
It also is suspected in the 2010 slayings in Tamaulipas of 72 illegal immigrants, mostly Central Americans, who were apparently killed after refusing to work for the cartel as couriers or enforcers.
The Zetas also are blamed for the murder of around 200 people whose bodies were found in 2011 in a series of clandestine graves, also in Tamaulipas.
The group has drawn the ire of older, established cartels through its extensive involvement in extortion, kidnapping for ransom and robbery, crimes that the other drug mobs generally eschew out of a desire to avoid antagonizing the general public.