Mexican authorities bust ruthless Zetas leader as bloody war endures

Arrests may worsen cartel's internal leadership struggle

Ivan Velázquez Caballero, aka "El Taliban",
Ivan Velázquez Caballero, aka "El Taliban", ALFREDO ESTRELLA (AFP)

Mexican authorities dealt a devastating blow to the notorious Zetas drug cartel gang over the past week. On September 27, the Mexican navy arrested Zetas boss Iván Velázquez, aka "El Taliban" or "Z-50," in central Mexico. Then on Tuesday, the military captured another top leader known as Francisco Javier "N," nicknamed "El Chipiturco," who is considered the leader of the cartel in Mexico's Nuevo León state.

Velázquez was Mexico's most wanted fugitive kingpin and has been in a deadly war with Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, alias "El Lazca," a former army corporal who is thought to have been one of the founders of the Zetas. In recent weeks, the violence between the rivals has escalated, with the death toll in August from the internal war reaching 1,500.

El Lazca and El Taliban have taken up arms against each other over leadership, money and territory in the states where, for the moment, the drug war rages: Michoacán, San Luis Potosí, Zacatecas, Nuevo León, Tamaulipas and Coahuila.

The manner in which they kill their rivals includes such sickening acts as decapitating their victims and rolling their heads in public places as well as hanging mutilated bodies from bridges.

Velázquez, 42, was paraded before the Mexican press on Thursday handcuffed and wearing a bulletproof vest. "They are splitting," Javier Oliva, a security expert at the National Autonomous University (UNAM) of Mexico, told Reuters. He predicted more bloodshed. "Every time they capture a major crime boss, his organization fragments, so the violence increases, and this atomization makes the government's fight harder."

Tuesday's capture of El Chipiturco, along with eight others, took place without any gun battles.

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