Colombian police arrest head of drug trafficking gang

Colombian police arrested the head of a drug trafficking gang who is wanted for extradition by the US, officials said Monday.

Rafael Alvarez, known as "Chepe," leader of the "Los Urabenos" criminal group, was arrested over the weekend by elite commandos at a farm in the northwest town of Caceres, according to a police statement.

An agent who participated in the capture told the newspaper El Tiempo that "Chepe" was seriously wounded during the operation and is hospitalized. Ten of his men were also arrested.

The police report said Alvarez was the leader of the Los Urabenos "criminal structure" in the northwest department of Antioquia, where it engages in drug trafficking and extortion.

It also pegged him as the instigator of a wave of violence that erupted in municipalities across Antioquia and Cordoba departments in a battle over drug trafficking routes with the Los Rastrojos gang.

The United States is seeking Alvarez's extradition to face US cocaine smuggling charges, and Colombia had issued two warrants for his arrest for conspiring to participate in criminal activity and drug trafficking.

"He was the top Los Urabenos boss in Bajo Cauca (region of Antioquia), having extorted businesses and participated in sustained violence," Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon said.

Los Urabenos emerged after the 2006 demobilization of right-wing paramilitary group United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), of which Alvarez was a member along with some 31,000 other combatants.

After the group's fall, some members banded together in criminal gangs.

An April report by Colombia's Center for Integrated Intelligence said that Los Urabenos has grown to 2,366 members, up from 1,970 members in 2012.