Caro Quintero was arrested after a search dog named ‘Max’ found him hiding in brush in the town of San Simon, Sinaloa state, during a joint operation by the Navy and the Bureau of the attorney general, according to a Navy statement. The site was in the mountains near Sinaloa’s border with the northern border state of Chihuahua.
Mexico’s National Arrest Registry listed the time of Caro Quintero’s arrest at around noon. There were two pending arrest orders for him as well as an extradition request from the US government.
Mexico’s attorney general’s office said in a statement on Friday that Caro Quintero had been arrested for extradition and would be held at the Altiplano maximum security prison, about 80 km west of Mexico City.
A very short video segment released by the Navy showed Caro Quintero – face blurred – dressed in jeans, a soaked blue shirt and a baggy khaki jacket held by both arms by men in camouflage uniforms and carrying assault rifles.
A Navy Blackhawk helicopter carrying 15 people crashed near the coastal town of Los Mochis during the operation, killing 14 of those on board, the Navy statement said. Available information indicates that he suffered an “accident”, the cause of which has not yet been determined, according to the statement.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said via Twitter that the helicopter crashed shortly before landing after supporting those who captured Caro Quintero. He expressed his condolences to the families of the victims and said the crash would be investigated.
Caro Quintero was released in 2013 after 28 years in prison when a court overturned his 40-year sentence for the 1985 kidnapping and murder of US Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena. The brutal murder marked a low point in US-Mexico relations.
Caro Quintero, the former head of the Guadalajara Cartel, had since returned to drug trafficking and sparked bloody turf battles in Mexico’s northern border state of Sonora.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador maintained that he was not interested in detaining drug lords and preferred to avoid violence.
But the arrest came just days after López Obrador met with US President Joe Biden at the White House.
There had been tensions between the Mexican government and the DEA after Mexico enacted a law limiting the US agency’s operations. But recently, the new DEA chief in Mexico received a visa, which US officials marked as a sign of progress in the relationship.
Shortly before Caro Quintero’s arrest on Friday, US Ambassador Ken Salazar told a meeting of reporters that there had been progress in security relations.
“I had meetings with the foreign minister and with the security cabinet, and with all of our agencies that included the new DEA chief sitting to my right,” Salazar said. “So if we weren’t welcome here in Mexico, it wouldn’t happen.”
An appeals court overturned Caro Quintero’s verdict in 2013, but the Supreme Court upheld the sentence. It was then too late; Caro Quintero was abducted from a waiting vehicle.
He was on the FBI’s most wanted list, with a $20 million reward for his capture under the State Department’s narcotics rewards program. He was added to the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List of 2018.
Caro Quintero was a major supplier of heroin, cocaine and marijuana to the United States in the late 1970s. He blamed Camarena for a raid on a marijuana plantation in 1984. In 1985, Camarena was kidnapped in Guadalajara, allegedly on the orders of Caro Quintero. His tortured body was found a month later.
On Friday evening, US Attorney General Merrick Garland expressed the US government’s deep gratitude to Mexican authorities for the arrest of Caro Quintero and offered his condolences to the Mexican military personnel who died in the helicopter crash.
“There is no hiding place for anyone who kidnaps, tortures and murders American law enforcement,” he said in a statement. “Today’s arrest is the culmination of tireless work by the DEA and their Mexican partners to bring Caro-Quintero to justice for his alleged crimes, including the torture and execution of Special Agent of DEA Enrique ‘Kiki’ Camarena. We will seek his immediate extradition to the United States so that he can be tried for these crimes in the very court system that Special Agent Camarena died defending.”
Mike Vigil, former head of international operations for the DEA, said Caro Quintero has been operating independently more recently, although there have been rumors that he is back with the Sinaloa Cartel.
Caro Quintero was from Badiraguato, Sinaloa, the same area as Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the former Sinaloa cartel leader who is currently serving a life sentence in the United States. He eventually became one of the “godfathers” of the Mexican drug trade.
Vigil said he was surprised by Caro Quintero’s arrest, given López Obrador’s stated disinterest in going after drug cartel bosses, but added that the DEA would never stop looking for someone. who killed an agent.
“We haven’t seen a lot of effort (to capture Caro Quintero) over the last few years, especially when (López Obrador) came in and immediately started dismantling a lot of the infrastructure and the bilateral relationship between the United States and Mexico to drug trafficking,” Vigil said.
In Sonora, one of the states hardest hit by Caro Quintero’s efforts to reclaim territory, there was hope that his arrest might help.
“I believe that in Sonora, in general, there could be calm, and yes, relief for us, because I believe the disappearances will decrease,” said Cecilia Duarte, an activist with a team of volunteer researchers. in Sonora who search for the clandestine graves. of the missing. Some activists were threatened and even killed in Sonora amid Caro Quintero’s turf wars with “El Chapo’s” sons.
But, Duarte said, Caro Quintero “is only part (of the conflict), the conflict does not end”.
Associated Press writers Mark Stevenson and María Verza in Mexico City contributed to this report.
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