TIJUANA, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican police captured a drug kingpin on Tuesday known for having the corpses of tortured rivals dissolved in acid and blamed for much of a surge in violence in the northern border city of Tijuana.
In a fresh victory for Mexico’s bloody war on drug gangs, Teodoro Garcia Simental was caught in southern Baja California early Tuesday, police said.
Garcia Simental, also known as “El Teo” or “Tres Letras” for the three letters in his nickname Teo, was apprehended when an elite force of some 50 federal police raided an upscale neighborhood in the beach town of La Paz near the tip of the Baja California peninsula. They searched several houses before finding him.
“No shots were fired. It was a very fast operation. The investigation has been going on for a long time,” a police officer who participated in the operation told Reuters. Garcia Simental was handcuffed and swiftly flown to Mexico City.
The top smuggler split from the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix cartel to help Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman -- head of the rival Sinaloa cartel and Mexico’s most wanted man -- wrest control of key smuggling corridors in northern Mexico.
His arrest marks a second major victory for President Felipe Calderon in recent weeks after an elite navy force in December killed a drug lord from western Mexico, Arturo Beltran Leyva, at a luxury apartment complex near Mexico City.
Calderon declared war on drug traffickers when he came to power in late 2006, but his army clampdown has to date only worsened brutal turf wars between rival gangs that have left more than 17,000 people dead across Mexico over three years.
The spiraling violence has alarmed the U.S. government, which is backing Calderon’s crackdown, and is rattling foreign investors and tourists just as Mexico is fighting its way out of a painful recession.
The Mexican government had offered a reward of up to 30 million pesos ($2.4 million) for information leading to the capture of Garcia Simental. Coordination with U.S. intelligence agents over several months helped find him, federal police official Ramon Pequeno told reporters in Mexico City.
“He was one of the most wanted suspects by both the Mexican and U.S. governments,” Pequeno told a news conference where Garcia Simental, wearing a bright red sweatshirt and guarded by heavily armed masked police, was paraded in front of cameras.
Garcia Simental, thought to be in his mid-thirties, and his hitmen are known to favor gruesome killing methods that included torture and decapitation.
His name made national headlines when police arrested a man called Santiago Meza, dubbed “El Teo’s cook,” who confessed to having used barrels of corrosive acid to dispose of the bodies of some 300 people killed by Garcia Simental’s gang.
The war between rival traffickers in Tijuana has turned the city across the border from San Diego into one of the most violent in the country with some 1,400 drug murders in the past two years.
Kidnappings and extortions have scared off local businesses and U.S. tourists who used to cross the border in droves for cheap sex, prescription medicines and tequila.
$1 = 12.76 pesos