Published on 16 Jul 2013 Sections ,

Zeta drug cartel leader captured in Mexico

The notoriously brutal drug gangster Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, known for burning his victims to death, is arrested by marines in the first major blow against an organised crime leader in Mexico.

Warning: video contains images that some viewers may find distressing.

Treviño Morales, known as Z-40, was captured by Mexican marines outside his home town of Nuevo Laredo on the border with Texas, Mexican and US sources confirmed.

Treviño was the leader of a corps of special forces defectors who splintered off into their own cartel in 2010 and spread across Mexico. The cartel was involved in a range of criminal activities, including drug dealing, extortion and human trafficking.

Zeta authored some of the worst atrocities of Mexico’s drug war, slaughtering dozens, leaving their bodies on display and gaining a reputation as perhaps the most terrifying of the country’s numerous ruthless cartels.

The group’s members are thought to be behind dozens of massacres and started the practice of decapitating their victims, which is now widespread among the cartels.

Presidential victory

The arrest of Treviño, who is wanted for the slaughter of 260 migrants and is widely blamed for massive northbound drug trafficking, will be seen as a huge victory for President Enrique Peña Nieto.

He came into office promising to drive down levels of homicide, extortion and kidnapping but has struggled to make a credible dent in crime figures.

A news conference was called by the Mexican government about the capture, which happened late on Monday.

His arrest comes nine months after Mexican security forces said they killed Heriberto Lazcano, then the leader of the Zetas, and captured other high-ranking members.

Who was Z-40?

Treviño Morales began his career as a teenager with the Los Tejas gang, which controlled most crime in his home town across the border from Laredo, Texas. He soon graduated from washing cars to running drugs across the border, and was recruited into the Matamoros-based Gulf cartel, which absorbed Los Tejas when it took over drug dealing in the valuable border territory.

Treviño Morales joined the Zetas, a group of Mexican special forces deserters who defected to work as hit men and bodyguards for the Gulf cartel in the late 1990s.

Stories about the brutality “Z-40” quickly became well known and Nuevo Laredo citizens became terrified of incurring his anger.

One technique favoured by Treviño Morales was the “guiso,” or stew, in which enemies would be placed in 55-gallon drums and burned alive. Others who crossed the commander were beaten with wooden planks.

Treviño rose to the top of the Zetas in 2012 after leader Lazcano died in a shootout with Mexican marines in the northern state of Coahuila.

He was indicted on drug trafficking and weapons charges in New York in 2009 and Washington in 2010, and the US government issued a $5m reward for information leading to his arrest.