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Sergio Villareal Barragan Arrested: 'El Grande' Is Presumed Drug Kingpin

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MEXICO CITY — Mexican marines captured Sergio Villarreal Barragan, a presumed leader of the embattled Beltran Leyva cartel and one of the country's most-wanted fugitives, in a raid Sunday in the central state of Puebla, the government said.

The alleged capo known as "El Grande" did not put up any resistance when he was arrested along with two accomplices as they left a residence in Puebla city, according to government security spokesman Alejandro Poire. The raid involved 30 Navy marines, five vehicles and a helicopter.

"This is a new and resounding blow by the federal government against crime, given the high rank and dangerousness of this person inside one of the country's most extensive criminal organizations which has now been deeply weakened," Poire said in a statement.

Villarreal's capture is the fourth major blow delivered to drug cartels by the government of President Felipe Calderon in the past year.

First came the death of Arturo Beltran Leyva, the top leader of Beltran Leyva cartel, in a raid outside Mexico City on Dec. 16, 2009. Then soldiers killed the Sinaloa cartel's No. 3 capo, Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel, on July 29. And on Aug. 30 federal police announced the capture of Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias "La Barbie." The two men are not related.

Villarreal, "El Grande," appears on an Attorney General's Office list of Mexico's most-wanted drug traffickers, with a reward of just over $2 million offered for his capture. He faces at least seven investigations for alleged drug trafficking and organized crime, Poire said.

He is listed as one of the top remaining leaders of the Beltran Leyva cartel following the death of Arturo, who was known as the "Boss of Bosses," and the arrest of "La Barbie," a former Beltran Leyva hitman and operative.

Poire said the Beltran Leyvas "had constituted one of the groups with the largest presence in the country," conducting operations in 32 Mexican states, including the capital.

But trouble began when Alfredo Beltran Leyva was arrested in 2008. Then the death of his brother Arturo the following year splintered the cartel, launching a brutal war for control of the gang, involving mass executions and beheadings in once-peaceful parts of central Mexico. Carlos Beltran Leyva was arrested a few days after Arturo's death.

The fight for the remains of the cartel pitted Hector Beltran Leyva and Villarreal against a faction led by "La Barbie." Hector is the last Beltran Leyva brother at large.

The Beltran Leyva brothers once formed a part of the Sinaloa cartel, but broke away following a dispute. An indication of the problems they face is that three of the four main blows dealt to drug gangs in the past year involve Beltran Leyva leaders or operatives.

More than 28,000 people have been killed in Mexico since December 2006, when Calderon launched a military offensive against the cartels soon after taking office.

In the central state of Morelos, police discovered nine bodies in clandestine graves Saturday in the same area where four more were recently found. The Public Safety Department said in a statement that all 13 victims were believed to have been killed on the orders of "La Barbie" in his battle for control of the cartel.

On Sunday, the military announced that it filed charges against four troops for the Sept. 5 shooting deaths of a man and his 15-year-old son along the highway linking the northern city of Monterrey to Laredo, Texas.

Authorities have said soldiers opened fire on the family vehicle when it failed to stop at a checkpoint, though relatives who were also in the car say they were shot at after they passed a military convoy.

The mother and wife of the two victims was also wounded in the shooting.

A captain, a corporal and two infantrymen are in custody in military prison and have been charged with homicide, the Defense Department said in a statement.

Mexico's military was already under scrutiny for this year's killings of two brothers, ages 5 and 9, on a highway in Tamaulipas, a state bordering Nuevo Leon.

The National Human Rights Commission has accused soldiers of shooting the children and altering the scene to try to pin the deaths on drug cartel gunmen.

The army denies the allegations and says the boys were killed in the crossfire of a shootout between soldiers and suspected traffickers.

The scandal renewed demands from activists that civilian authorities, not the army, investigate human rights cases involving the military.

More recently, soldiers killed a U.S. citizen Aug. 22 outside the Pacific coast resort city of Acapulco.

In a statement to police, an army lieutenant claimed that Joseph Proctor, who had lived Mexico for several years, shot first at the military convoy on a highway between Acapulco and Zihuatanejo.

The Defense Department says it is investigating the claim, which Proctor's father, William Proctor, says he found hard to believe.

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