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Army captures U.S. teen hitman in Mexico

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CUERNAVACA, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican soldiers captured a 14-year-old U.S. citizen suspected of being a drug gang hitman as he attempted to travel to the United States.

Edgar Jimenez, known as “El Ponchis,” worked for the South Pacific drug cartel in Morelos state, outside Mexico City, the army said Friday.

The boy was caught late Thursday as he boarded a plane in the city of Cuernavaca in Morelos. He was travelling to the border city of Tijuana across from San Diego, California, with two of his sisters, one of whom is believed to be the lover of one of the cartel’s bosses, the army said.

The three Jimenez siblings reportedly had wanted to cross to San Diego, where they have relatives.

“El Ponchis” made headlines last month as reports of his grisly murders, including beheadings, surfaced. He acknowledged having killed at least seven people and the influence of drugs provided by a cartel leader, according to the army statement. It was not immediately clear what his nickname refers to.

Speaking about the murders, Jimenez said: “I felt bad doing it. I was forced to do it. They said they would kill me if I didn’t do it. I only beheaded them, but never hung (bodies) from bridges, never,” Jimenez was quoted as saying in Reforma newspaper.

Hanging the bodies in busy city intersections is a common practice among drug cartels hoping intimidate rivals. Newspaper El Universal said Jimenez was paid $2,500 (1,600 pounds) for each murder he committed.

Murders committed by minors, ranging from shoplifting to murder for the cartels, have risen across Mexico this year, state officials say. Parents in the violent cities of Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana on the U.S. border say children as young as 8 want to grow up to be drug lords, as the thrills and wealth of the trafficking world touches their lives.

Writing by Cyntia Barrera Diaz; Editing by Bill Trott