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Originally published Tuesday, January 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Key lieutenant to boss of drug cartel caught

Mexico's army on Monday captured a top lieutenant of the powerful Sinaloa cartel who allegedly commanded squads of hit men and organized...

The Associated Press

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's army on Monday captured a top lieutenant of the powerful Sinaloa cartel who allegedly commanded squads of hit men and organized drug shipments north, officials said.

Alfredo Beltran Leyva was arrested in the northwestern city of Culiacan in Sinaloa state, home to the cartel, with two suitcases containing $900,000, an assault rifle, a luxury SUV and 11 expensive watches, the army said.

Beltran Leyva, whose nickname "El Mochomo" refers to a desert ant, is a purported key operator for the cartel run by his cousin, Joaquin Guzman Loera, known as "El Chapo" Guzman.

Army Gen. Luis Arturo Oliver Cen said Beltran Leyva commanded two groups of hit men for the cartel, whose reach extends from the northwestern state of Sonora to the southern state of Oaxaca.

He was allegedly in charge of transporting drugs, bribing officials and laundering money for the cartel.

Beltran Leyva and four of his brothers — Hector, Marcos, Mario and Carlos — are key leaders in Guzman's criminal organization, Oliver Cen said.

"This is one of the people who function as the right hand of Chapo Guzman," said Javier Ibarrola, a writer on military affairs. "This is important."

Monday's arrest, Ibarrola said, appeared to be a nice piece of intelligence work by the federal government, which had said at the start of the year that its strategy had changed from patrolling streets in drug hot spots to more surgical strikes against top cartel operators.

Dressed in jeans, a dark jacket and boots, the black-bearded Beltran Leyva was led in handcuffs past reporters at the airport hangar of the Mexican attorney general's office, before authorities flew him by helicopter to an undisclosed location.

Guzman escaped from federal prison in 2001 in a laundry cart after bribing guards.

Beltran Leyva's arrest follows two weeks of bloody confrontations along the U.S.-Mexico border between federal agents and gunmen suspected of working for the Arellano Felix and Gulf cartels, rivals of the Sinaloa.

A high-ranking local police official in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, across from El Paso, Texas, was shot to death on Monday outside his home by unidentified gunmen — the second killing of a policeman there in two days.

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Francisco Ledezma Salazar, operations coordinator for the Ciudad Juarez police, had been leaving for work when gunmen sprayed his SUV with bullets.

Police were still investigating his killing, city Public Safety Secretary Guillermo Prieto Quintana said.

On Sunday, police Capt. Julian Chairez Hernandez was shot to death in his patrol car.

Information from The Dallas Morning News is included in this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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