Mexico City - Mexican marines detained the head of the brutal Zetas drug cartel without firing a shot on Monday, giving the government its biggest catch as it strives to reduce violence, officials said.
Miguel Angel Trevino, alias "Z-40", was intercepted by a helicopter that dropped in front of his pick-up truck as he travelled with two associates on a dirt road near Nuevo Laredo, a northeastern city bordering Texas, officials said.
The marines seized $2m in cash from the car along with eight large weapons and 500 cartridges. The other two detainees are believed to be a bodyguard and an operative tasked with finances.
"Not one shot was fired," interior ministry spokesperson Eduardo Sanchez told a news conference.
The ministry released a mugshot of the 40-year-old drug lord wearing a black shirt, with a bloody lower lip and a bruise on his right cheek following his arrest at around 03:45. He was later transferred to Mexico City.
Trevino is accused of organised crime, homicide, drug trafficking, torture and money laundering.
Brutal turf wars
The Zetas are considered one of the most feared organised crime groups in Mexico, founded by former elite troops, although Trevino was never a soldier.
Originally, the Zetas acted as the armed enforcers of the Gulf Cartel, but the two groups split in 2010, sparking brutal turf wars in northern Mexico.
The Zetas are also engaged in a fight for lucrative drug routes to the United States against the Sinaloa cartel, led by the most wanted man in Mexico, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
The gang's activities include extortion, stealing fuel from pipelines and trafficking migrants. The Zetas are also present in Central America
Trevino's capture comes eight months after Mexican troops killed his predecessor, Heriberto Lazcano, in a gunfight in the northern state of Coahuila, only for the capo's body to be stolen by gunmen hours later in a funeral home.
Trevino is the highest-profile drug kingpin detained since President Enrique Pena Nieto took office in December, with the United States offering $5m and Mexico $2.3m for information leading to his capture.
Pena Nieto has pledged to implement a new strategy focused on reducing violence, with a crime prevention program and plans to create a militarized police force.
His predecessor, Felipe Calderon, deployed thousands of troops across the country after he took office in 2006 to crack down on drug trafficking.
While authorities captured or killed two dozen of the 37 most wanted drug capos during his term, Calderon's time in office was marked by a staggering 70 000 drug-related murders between 2006-2012.
Trevino was captured after months of intelligence work to track his movements, enabling authorities to discover that he was using dirt roads to travel between the states of Coahuila and Tamaulipas, where Nuevo Laredo lies, Sanchez said.
Although his arrest is a major coup for the government, analysts say the capture of drug capos often leads to more violence because of internal battles for control or rival gangs seizing on the lack of leadership to steal territory.
Trevino has a brother in the organisation but it is unclear if Omar "Z-42" Trevino can succeed him, according to Stratfor, the Texas-based security consultancy.
The Zetas' rivals "probably see this transition as a moment of weakness. They could attack Los Zetas in their strongholds or otherwise try to expel Los Zetas from their home territories", Stratfor said.
The Zetas are linked with some of the most gruesome crimes in Mexico's drug war, including the killing of 72 migrants in August 2010 and an arson attack on a casino in Monterrey that left 52 dead in August 2011.
Sanchez said Trevino is suspected of ordering the kidnapping of the 72 migrants along with 193 others who were found dead in 2011 in Tamaulipas.