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Top Mexican drug cartel suspect arrested, officials say

  • Story Highlights
  • Vicente Carrillo Leyva, 32, arrested in Mexico City, officials say
  • He was living under fake name; was found through his wife, who used her own name
  • This is the fourth arrest of major drug cartel suspect in recent weeks
  • Authorities in U.S. and Mexico blame drug cartels for surge in violence near border
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MEXICO CITY, Mexico (CNN) -- Mexican authorities arrested Vicente Carrillo Leyva, a leader of the Carrillo Fuentes drug cartel, officials announced Thursday.

Vicente Carrillo Leyva is escorted by police at a news conference in Mexico City on Thursday.

Vicente Carrillo Leyva is escorted by police at a news conference in Mexico City on Thursday.

Carrillo Leyva was arrested as he exercised in a park in a residential area of Mexico City, where he had been living under the alias Alejandro Peralta Alvarez, officials said.

The federal attorney general's office told reporters he was tracked through his wife, who did not change her name.

Carrillo Leyva "is considered one of the heirs to the criminal organization known as the Juarez Cartel, after the death of his father, Amado Carrillo Fuentes," said Assistant Prosecutor Maricela Morales.

His father died in July 1997 while undergoing plastic surgery to alter his appearance in an effort to avoid capture. Amado Carrillo was known as "El Senor de los Cielos," the "Lord of the Skies," because of the fleet of jetliners he used to transport cocaine from Colombia to Mexico.

Carrillo Leyva, 32, was presented at the news conference, surrounded by black-clad, hooded law-enforcement officials. He wore dark-frame glasses and a white jogging suit with double black stripes on the sleeves. His dark hair was long and shaggy.

Last month, federal officials offered a reward of up to $2.16 million (30 million pesos) for information leading to his arrest. The same reward has been offered for his uncle, cartel leader Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, also known as "El Viceroy" and "El General," who remains at-large.

Rewards of $2 million apiece have been offered for 22 other leading cartel suspects.

Wednesday's arrest was the fourth detention of a top drug cartel leader in recent weeks.

Last week, officials announced the arrest of Hector Huerta Rios, also known as "La Burra" or "El Junior," a top lieutenant of the Beltran Leyva cartel. He was arrested in the city of San Pedro Garza Garcia in Nuevo Leon state, along Mexico's border with the United States.

The previous week, Mexican authorities announced the arrest of Sigifredo Najera Talamantes, a drug-trafficking suspect accused of attacking a U.S. consulate and killing Mexican soldiers. Talamantes, also known as "El Canicon," also is suspected in attacks on a television station in Monterrey in Nuevo Leon, the state-run Notimex agency said.

That same week, the Mexican military also arrested the son of a top drug cartel lieutenant.

Authorities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border blame drug cartels for a surge in violence in the region.

Despite the violence, Mexican officials say the country is generally safe and that tourist areas such as Cancun and Acapulco are heavily patrolled.Video Watch Leyva get escorted by law enforcement officials »

Officials from Acapulco city hall, the Guerrero state government and the Mexico attorney general went so far as to sign a statement in early March assuring students wanting to go there on spring break that efforts had been taken to ensure their safety.

In a speech in mid-March, Mexican President Felipe Calderon said 93 percent of the 6,500 deaths attributed to organized crime in 2008 occurred among the criminals. Most of the rest were law enforcement authorities, officials have said.

Few civilians are killed, the president said.

In that same speech, Calderon ridiculed those who say Mexico is unsafe.

"It is absolutely false, absurd, that anyone indicate that Mexico does not have control over one single part of its national territory," he said. "I challenge anyone who says that to tell me what part of the country they want to go to and I will take that person there."

Analysts point out that most of the violence is occurring along the U.S. border, particularly in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua and Tijuana. Drug cartel violence is also found on Mexico's western coast.

"The situation in Ciudad Juarez is of special concern," the U.S. State Department said in a February 20 travel alert. "Mexican authorities report that more than 1,800 people have been killed in the city since January 2008. Additionally, this city of 1.6 million people experienced more than 17,000 car thefts and 1,650 carjackings in 2008."

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The State Department advisory tells U.S. citizens how best to remain safe.

"While millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year (including thousands who cross the land border every day for study, tourism or business), violence in the country has increased recently. It is imperative that travelers understand the risks of travel to Mexico, how best to avoid dangerous situations, and whom to contact if one becomes a crime victim. Common-sense precautions such as visiting only legitimate business and tourist areas during daylight hours, and avoiding areas where prostitution and drug dealing might occur, can help ensure that travel to Mexico is safe and enjoyable."

CNN's Mario Gonzalez contributed to this story.

All About MexicoDrug TraffickingFelipe Calderon

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