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Mexican soldiers on Saturday captured the leader of the Gulf drug cartel, the second major blow in a month to the crime syndicates that have terrorized the country for years.
Soldiers captured Mario Armando Ramirez Trevino in a Saturday morning operation, the interior ministry said in a brief statement, describing him only as "the head of a criminal organization that operated in the north of the country."
This is the second drug kingpin captured by the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto following the July 15 arrest of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the head of the paramilitary Zetas cartel.
Pena Nieto, who took office in December 2012, has pledged to reduce drug-related violence that has resulted in more than 70,000 deaths since 2006.
Ramirez Trevino, thought to be 51, became head of the once-powerful Gulf cartel after its former leader, Jorge Eduardo "El Coss" Costilla, was arrested in September 2012.
The Gulf cartel first emerged smuggling liquor during the Prohibition era in the 1930s and is one of Mexico's oldest criminal groups. Even though it has lost considerable terrain to rivals since its heyday in the mid 2000s, it retains key smuggling routes in eastern and northeastern Mexico.
Ramirez Trevino was captured in Rio Bravo, near the Texas border, according to a justice source in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. Mexican military helicopters buzzed across the region on Saturday.
The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Ramirez Trevino's arrest. The Gulf cartel boss was indicted in a US federal court in 2008 on crimes related to trafficking cocaine and marijuana from Mexico into the United States.
The interior ministry said it would hold a press conference on Sunday to discuss the details of his arrest.
Military checkpoints were set up outside Rio Bravo and the nearby border town of Reynosa, while soldiers and marines patrolled the streets, local media reported. Soldiers also took control of the international airport at Reynosa.
Reportedly a former drug addict, Ramirez Trevino -- also known as "El Pelon" ("Baldy") and "X-20" -- rose to lead the Gulf cartel group that controlled criminal activities in the key smuggling town of Reynosa, across the Rio Grande river from McAllen, Texas.
In recent months he reportedly asserted his leadership over the cartel by crushing a rival faction.
Ramirez Trevino earlier worked closely with Osiel Cardenas Guillen, a former powerful cartel leader arrested in 2003 and currently serving a lengthy prison sentence in the United States.
Under Osiel Cardenas the Gulf cartel hired the Zetas -- elite anti-drug commandos that deserted and turned to the dark side -- to work as their enforcement arm. But the Zetas turned on their employers in 2010 and in a series of bloody turf battles took over most of their territory.
The Zetas now battle the western Sinaloa Federation for control of the major drug trafficking routes to the United States. The Sinaloa gang is headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" (Shorty) Guzman, Mexico's most wanted man.
The captured former head of the Zetas, alias "Z-40," is currently being held in a maximum security prison in Mexico.
The two high-profile successes in Mexico help balance out some major setbacks, including the surprise release of jailed drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, convicted in the 1985 torture and killing of US Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena and his Mexican pilot.
A local judge in the state of Jalisco on August 7 ordered that Caro Quintero be released, claiming procedural mistakes in his case. The Mexican government has since ordered his detention again after receiving a US extradition request.
Mexicans have become so outraged by the cartels' violence and distrustful of authorities that in some areas residents have taken up arms and formed self-defense groups.
The bodies of 24 people were found in two states where vigilantes have been especially active, local officials said Saturday.
The remains of nine men with their hands tied and apparently tortured to death were found in a remote region of the western state of Michoacan, local officials told AFP.
In the nearby state of Guerrero eight people were killed in a battle with self-defense groups, state police said, while another seven bodies were found late Friday in Taxco, also in Guerrero.
A shadowy pseudo-religious regional cartel, the Knights Templar, are active in the area.