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Alleged leader of Mexican drug cartel arrested

On U.S. Customs Service's "most wanted" list

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MATAMOROS, Mexico (CNN) -- - The suspected leader of one of Mexico's most powerful drug cartels was arrested Friday after a shoot-out between hundreds of bodyguards and Mexican soldiers in a small town just across the border from Brownsville, Texas.

Osiel Cardenas, 35, is the alleged leader of the Gulf of Mexico cartel and is listed as one of the U.S. Customs Service's "most wanted" criminals.

Cardenas is accused of threatening to kill several U.S. drug and customs agents and has supposedly run a drug smuggling operation for several years that has shipped tons of marijuana and cocaine into the United States.

At least two Mexican soldiers were injured during the gun fight in Matamoros, at the home where Cardenas had been staying for the past six months, Defense Secretary Gen. Gerardo Vega Garcia said in a news conference. Federal authorities said they'd been running surveillance on the alleged drug lord since last year.

Authorities said the arrest was significant, but probably wouldn't dismantle the cartel. Drug lords arrested in the past were typically replaced with lower-ranking members within the group, they said.

Garcia said Cardenas would be tried in Mexico on charges of drug trafficking, homicide and arms possession, before Mexico decides whether to extradite him to the United States, where he also faces charges.

Almost three years ago, federal agents said, they seized 2,100 pounds of marijuana from Cardenas' cartel. Shortly after that, they said, Cardenas made a death threat against a local deputy sheriff who was working undercover for U.S. Customs.

Several months later, federal officials said, Cardenas and other members of the Gulf cartel stopped two federal agents, held them at gunpoint and threatened to kill them if they stayed in Matamoros.

A year later, Cardenas was indicted by a federal grand jury in Brownsville, Texas, on charges of assaulting a federal police officer and narcotics smuggling. At that time, the FBI posted a $2 million reward for information leading to Cardenas' arrest or the arrest of either of his two top lieutenants, Adan Medrano and Juan Manuel Garza Rendon.

They also described Cardenas as an extremely violent man whose nickname was "the friend killer," which he got for purging his own organization.

--CNN producer Lourdes Cardenas contributed to this report.

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