Mexican authorities said Tuesday that an alleged founder of the Zetas drug cartel had an arsenal of 169 guns when he was captured Monday, and may have been linked to the abduction of nine Mexican marines.
Navy spokesman Jose Luis Vergara said suspect Raul Lucio Hernandez Lechuga oversaw Zeta operations around the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, where nine marines disappeared earlier this year.
Vergara said a suspect was killed and a marine wounded in a firefight that erupted during Hernandez Lechuga's capture Monday in the Veracruz state city of Cordoba. The bust was the result of a yearlong intelligence operation, Vergara said.
Marines found 133 rifles, five grenade launchers, 29 grenades and 36 pistols at the scene of the raid near a highway. Marines also found bulletproof vests with the letter "Z", the zetas symbol, on the front.
Vergara said Hernandez Lechuga was one of Mexico's 37 most-wanted drug traffickers, and that with his arrest, 22 of those 37 have either been killed or detained.
The Zetas have been linked to some of the apparent abductions of Mexican marines, but Vergara didn't say what specific evidence authorities had of Hernandez Lechuga's involvement in the cases.
The apparent abductions of Mexican navy personnel have been shrouded in mystery, with the navy previously acknowledging that three marines and a navy cadet were abducted by suspected drug cartel gunmen in August in Veracruz, the state's largest city.
Later that month, the navy said it had found four bodies in a pit on the outskirts of Veracruz city, and that the remains might be those of the missing marines, but it never publicly confirmed that was the case.
At a Tuesday press conference where Hernandez Lechuga and four alleged associates were paraded before the media, Vergara said a total of nine marines had disappeared, but didn't say whether any of them had been found.
Mexican drug cartels have kidnapped and killed military personnel before, but such incidents remain relatively rare.
Hernandez Lechuga was the leader of the Zetas in about 10 states, including Veracruz. The federal government had offered a reward of 15 million pesos, or about $1.2 million, for information leading to his arrest. Vergara said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration was also offering a $1 million reward for Hernandez Lechuga, known by the nickname "Lucky."
The Zetas organization was formed by a small group of elite soldiers based in Tamaulipas state, across the border from Texas, who deserted to work for the Gulf drug cartel in the 1990s.
The Zetas split from their former allies in the Gulf cartel last year, setting off bloody fights throughout Mexico as they sought to expand south.
In Veracruz, the Zetas are believed to be locked in a bloody turf battle with groups allied with the Sinaloa cartel.
Also Tuesday, gunmen killed a town's deputy mayor and her bodyguard and wounded the town's police chief and his family while they were in the northern city of Chihuahua, authorities said.
Attackers opened fire on the two cars being used by the officials from the town of Gran Morelos, said the Chihuahua state prosecutors' spokesman, Carlos Gonzalez.
He said deputy mayor Idalia Ayala and her bodyguard died in one car. Police chief Miguel Gomez was in the second with his wife and two children, and all were wounded and taken to a hospital, Gonzalez said.
Gomez was named police chief after last month's arrest of Gran Morelos' top cop. Authorities said soldiers caught the police chief while he and police officers from the nearby town of Belisario Dominguez met with a boss for La Linea, a gang of hit men for the Juarez Cartel.