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Suspected top Gulf cartel leader captured in Mexico

September 13, 2012 |  9:45 am

  Suspected Gulf cartel leader arrested in Mexico

MEXICO CITY -- Mexican authorities on Thursday announced the capture of the alleged top leader of the Gulf cartel, a potentially crippling blow to the drug-trafficking network that once dominated much of northern and southern Mexico but has recently lost ground to the vicious Zetas paramilitary force.

It was the second big catch of a suspected Gulf capo in 10 days.

Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, alias "El Coss," was arrested by Mexican marines Wednesday night at a home in the eastern port city of Tampico, in the border state of Tamaulipas (link in Spanish). Navy spokesman Vice Adm. Jose Luis Vergara said Costilla did not resist.

Flanked by masked marines, Costilla was presented to reporters Thursday morning. Mustachioed and beefy, he remained stone-faced during the appearance.

Costilla is one of the most-wanted fugitives in Mexico; in the United States, where he is also wanted on a range of drug-trafficking charges, officials had placed a $5-million bounty on his head.

The Gulf cartel, despite its bruising war with the Zetas, still controls important smuggling routes into the U.S. and had recently allied itself with the powerful Sinaloa cartel. Both are fighting the Zetas for large amounts of territory and market share.

The captures of Costilla and, last week, of Mario Cardenas Guillen in effect wipe out the traditional leadership of the cartel. However, if past experience is any indication, the arrests are likely to unleash a bloody power struggle as second-tier lieutenants vie for control. And the Zetas may also sense an opportunity to step up efforts to destroy the Gulf cartel.

"This capture ... puts an end to a generation," Ricardo Ravelo, an expert on cartels who has written extensively on the subject, said in a radio interview (link in Spanish). It also leaves the Zetas solidly as the second most important cartel in Mexico, after Sinaloa, he said.


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Photo: Mexican marines escort alleged Gulf cartel leader Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, also known as "El Coss," in an appearance before reporters in Mexico City on Thursday. Credit: Dario Lopez-Mills / Associated Press