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Mexico captures alleged cartel operator linked to 350 murders

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Aug 22, 2013: Municipal police guard the entrance to Rancho La Mesa where a mass grave was found in the municipality of Tlalmanalco, Mexico.AP

Mexican police captured an alleged former Sinaloa drug cartel lieutenant accused of involvement in the killings of more than 350 people found in various mass graves in 2011, officials said Thursday.

Police in the northern state of Chihuahua detained Mario Nunez, a 39-year-old also known as "M-10," on Wednesday in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, federal security spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said.

Nunez, a former police officer, began working with the Juarez Cartel before joining the rival Sinaloa organization allegedly led by Mexico's most-wanted man, Joaquin Guzman.

The government partially blames Nunez for an upsurge in drug violence that brought shootouts in broad daylight, ambushes of police and kidnappings to Ciudad Juarez, which is across from El Paso, Texas.

U.S. court documents say Guzman, known as "El Chapo," hired Nunez and gave him the job of snatching the smuggling corridors into the U.S. from the local Juarez Cartel, through ordering gangs of hit men to carry out killings that included grisly mutilations and decapitations.

The Juarez Cartel lost ground to the Sinaloa organization in a three-year battle that wound down in 2011.

But Nunez's criminal career continued, authorities say.

The Mexican government claims Nunez's power struggle with another drug chieftain in the spring of 2011 resulted in the slayings of 350 people, whose bodies were unearthed in 23 mass graves in the northern state of Durango.

"Much of the violence seen in the states of Chihuahua and Durango is partially because of the actions carried out by this man," Sanchez said.

Nunez is wanted in the U.S. on drug-trafficking charges in a federal court in Texas. The Mexican government said he could face up to 40 years in prison in Mexico, and it was not immediately clear whether there was a U.S. extradition request for him.