Troops battled a suspected drug gang in a wealthy neighborhood on the outskirts of Mexico City and captured an alleged major trafficker with a $2 million U.S. bounty on his head, officials announced on Thursday.
Jose Gerardo Alvarez Vazquez -- known as "El Indio" or "El Chayan" -- is suspected of being responsible for a spike in violence in states near the capital as part of a struggle for control of the Beltran Leyva drug cartel, the military and the federal Attorney General's Office said.
Authorities said Alvarez Vazquez, 45, was arrested along with 14 other suspected drug traffickers during a Wednesday night shootout in Huixquilucan, just west of the capital.
Three died in the shooting and two alleged traffickers were wounded. Investigators did not say whether the dead were soldiers or suspected drug dealers. The military said it seized more than a dozen guns and a grenade.
"Cases such as this show the Mexican government's firm decision to continue fighting narcotraffickers," the Attorney General's Office said in a written statement. Among those arrested was Ascencion Sepulveda Salto, also known as "El Gato," believed to be a powerful cartel lieutenant in Guerrero state.
The U.S. State Department says Alvarez Vazquez is a key member of the Arturo Beltran Leyva drug cartel and that he has overseen major deals involving crystal methamphetamine and other drugs between Mexico, Central America, South America and the U.S.
He was indicted on four drug-related counts in 1997 in the Southern District of California and the State Department had issued a $2 million reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction.
"This significant arrest is another demonstration of the commitment and efforts being made by the Mexican government to disrupt and dismantle these violent drug trafficking organizations and bring their leaders to justice," said Paul E. Knierim, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman.
Mexican Gen. Edgar Luis Villegas Melendez said Alvarez Vazquez had partnered with Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a U.S.-born enforcer known as "La Barbie," in his quest for control over the Beltran Leyva cartel.
Authorities say a battle for the cartel began after Mexican marines killed drug kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva during a December shootout at an upscale apartment complex in Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City. The struggle for power has triggered dozens of killings in Morelos state, where Cuernavaca is located, and in neighboring Guerrero, authorities say.
The arrest of Alvarez Vazquez and Sepulveda Salto "significantly affects the operations and security of the Beltran Leyva organization," Villegas Melendez said.
At least seven major drug cartels operate in Mexico and an estimated 22,700 people have been killed in Mexico's drug war since December 2006, when a stepped-up military crackdown on the cartels began.