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Mexico arrests drug cartel suspects

Two men are among most wanted in U.S., Mexico

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

United States
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)
Mexico City (Mexico)

Two alleged leaders of one of the most notorious and violent Mexican drug cartels are in Mexican custody, U.S. law enforcement officials said Monday.

Jorge Aureliano Felix and Efrain Perez Pazuengo, described by officials as key figures of what is known as the Arellano Felix drug cartel, or AFO, were taken into custody by Mexican authorities in Tijuana, the officials announced in Washington.

The two are ranked as among the most-wanted suspects both in Mexico and the United States.

One U.S. official declared the cartel to be "in ruins," and another predicted an "historic impact."

"The operation was remarkably executed without incident considering the AFO's propensity for violence," said a joint statement released in Washington by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service. U.S. authorities allege the cartel is responsible for more than 100 drug-related murders in the United States and Mexico.

The U.S. officials credited Mexican federal agents with arresting the two alleged cartel leaders and seven other people who are reputed members of the drug syndicate.

Earlier Monday, Mexican Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha first disclosed in a Mexico City news conference that the men were arrested in a raid in Tijuana last Thursday.

The long-standing indictments of the cartel's alleged leaders were made public by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft nearly one year ago.

Those indictments, returned by a federal grand jury in San Diego, outlined a massive distribution of countless millions of dollars in illegal drugs in the United States.

The indictments also allege a cocaine-for-weapons partnership between the Arellano Felix organization and the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FARC.

U.S. law enforcement officials said Monday the new arrests, part of a joint plan dubbed "Operation United Eagles" reflected excellent cooperation between the two nations' anti-drug forces.

A U.S. law enforcement official said the United States will seek extradition, but the men also face a host of charges in Mexico.

Perez and Aureliano Felix will be tried first in Mexico before facing possible extradition to the United States, Macedo said in a report from The Associated Press.

A top FBI executive in Washington, Joseph Lewis, predicted the arrests "will have a measurable and historic impact on international drug law enforcement." Other officials expressed similar views.

"The Arellano Felix organization is now in ruins," declared DEA Administrator Karen Tandy. "One of its leaders is in jail, one is dead, and with these arrests two of their criminal viceroys will be brought to justice," Tandy said.

Her statement referred to Benjamin Arellano, who was arrested in 2002. One of his brothers, Ramon, was shot and killed that same year. But law enforcement sources say some members of the large family continue to control what is left of the once dominant drug distribution network.

Officials allege seven brothers and four sisters of the Arellano Felix family inherited the Tijuana cartel from Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo in 1989 after his arrest for drug trafficking.

Gallardo has been indicted in the United States for his alleged involvement in the torture and brutal murder of DEA agent Enrique "Kiki" Camarena.

Suspected Arellano Felix family members still at large include brothers Eduardo and Javier Arellano-Felix, U.S. officials said.

The U.S. government is offering rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to their arrest. Officials had no immediate information on whether rewards will be granted for information relating to the arrests announced Monday.

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