WASHINGTON – Mexican drug lord Javier Arellano-Felix has been apprehended after Drug Enforcement Administration officials were tipped off that the kingpin was aboard a boat in international waters near the U.S.-Mexican border.
Federal drug agents and the Coast Guard arrested Arellano-Felix, 37, on a private vessel in the Sea of Cortez off La Paz, Mexico, federal officials said Wednesday. Arellano-Felix is a leader of a violent gang responsible for digging elaborate tunnels to smuggle drugs under the U.S. border, a Justice Department official said.
Arrellano-Felix is wanted in both the United States and Mexico for his role as a leader in the Tijuana-based Arellano-Felix gang, which includes seven brothers and four sisters from the Arellano family.
Arellano-Felix, 37, was captured by Drug Enforcement Administration agents and the U.S. Coast Guard on Monday while he was deep-sea fishing about 15 miles off the coast of Mexico's Baja California peninsula, said Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. McNulty said the gang was blamed for 20 murders in the United States and Mexico.
Michael Braun, DEA chief of operations, said Wednesday that "the head has been cut off the snake."
"(Javier) was one of the 45 most notorious and most-wanted drug traffickers in the world," Braun said. "...He was the last stronghold (of the AFO). Today, we have this brutal organization in a chokehold, and we are not letting up."
A tip that Arellano-Felix was traveling aboard the 43-foot private fishing vessel, Dock Holiday, led to the dispatch of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Monsoon, which intercepted the Dock Holiday roughly 50 nautical miles from shore.
Arrellano-Felix was being transported in a secure cell on a Coast Guard cutter to San Diego, from which he will be flown by helicopter to appear before a federal court magistrate for arraignment, sources say. He was named in a federal indictment that was unsealed in California in July 2003. The State Department has offered $5 million in rewards for the capture of him or his brother Eduardo.
The Arrellano-Felix gang is believed to be responsible for the massive, sophisticated drug tunnels discovered last January. The DEA says the gang is also responsible for multiple murders and the smuggling of tons of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines over the last decade.
The gang has been a family organization dependent on the leadership of immediate family members for its success and survival. With the apprehension of Javier Arellano-Felix, three of the four main brothers have been neutralized, Braun said. Ramone is dead and Benjamin is in a Mexican prison. The fourth, Eduardo, "is not capable of leading the organization at this time," Braun added.
FOX News' Ian McCaleb and The Associated Press contributed to this story.