U.S. authorities arrest head of Mexican drug ring, 10 others

His organization has been connected to at least 20 murders


LOS ANGELES -- Mexican drug lord Francisco Javier Arellano Felix - whose Tijuana-based drug ring has been connected with at least 20 murders in Mexico and the United States - was apprehended by U.S. authorities while on a boating trip off the coast of Baja California, officials said yesterday.

Arellano Felix was being transported to San Diego onboard a U.S. Coast Guard cutter after being caught Monday morning onboard the vessel Doc Holiday about 15 miles off the coast of La Paz, Mexico, U.S. deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said during a news conference in Washington. In addition to Arellano Felix, 10 other people, including juveniles, were taken into custody.

Arellano Felix was named in a 2003 federal indictment that charged him and others in the Arellano Felix organization with racketeering, conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine and marijuana, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. Regarded by U.S. and Mexican authorities as one of the most ruthless and powerful of drug traffickers, Arellano Felix was the target of a $5 million reward for his capture.

`Most wanted'

"This guy happens to be, as the deputy attorney general mentioned, one of the 45 most notorious, most wanted drug traffickers in the world," said Michael Braun, assistant administrator for operations with the Drug Enforcement Agency. "So this is not your average arrest, and Javier is not your average drug trafficker."

The 2003 indictment identifies Arellano Felix as leading the drug cartel's Tijuana and Mexicali operations since May 2000 and participating in most major decision-making.

The Tijuana cartel once controlled a major portion of the cocaine and heroin entering the United States and is thought to be responsible for dozens of killings, including those of two Tijuana police chiefs, several state and federal prosecutors and a host of police officers since taking over the Baja California smuggling corridor in the 1980s.

That control has weakened in recent years as rival gangs encroached on the group's territory, triggering a bloody struggle. The decline has gathered force since Benjamin Arellano Felix, the cartel's alleged capo, was captured in March 2002.

U.S. authorities planned Arellano Felix's capture after learning that he would be taking the Doc Holiday, a 43-foot, U.S.-registered fishing boat, on a trip. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Monsoon intercepted the Doc Holiday in international waters 15 miles off the Mexican coast.

Fishing boat

After U.S. authorities boarded the fishing boat, they arrested Arellano Felix and others wanted for arrest. Arellano Felix was traveling under an alias but later revealed his identity, McNulty said.

Arellano Felix was expected to be arraigned "in the very near future" on the charges in the federal indictment, McNulty said.

Officials acknowledged that the Arellano Felix organization remains active but said that the arrest of one of its leaders would deal it a severe blow.

The cartel is a "a large organization, and much more remains to be done," McNulty said. "But we think that this, combined with a number of the other efforts that have preceded it, will have a noticeable impact, not just on Mexico but also in the United States, in terms of the ability to bring drugs into the country and the violence that has occurred on this side of the border, in the San Diego area in particular."

Jesus Sanchez writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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