MEXICO CITY – Authorities said Monday they captured two of the top leaders of one of Mexico's most feared drug gangs, men ranked among the most-wanted suspects on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Efrain Perez and Jorge Aureliano Felix are "numbers one and two in the command structure of the Arellano Felix cartel (search)," after family members themselves, Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha told a news conference.
He said they had shared command with the youngest brother in the Arellano Felix family after the arrest or death of other brothers.
"The Arellano Felix organization is now in ruins," Karen P. Tandy, administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (search), said in a statement released in Washington.
"One of its leaders is in jail, one is dead, and with these arrests, two of their criminal viceroys will be brought to justice," she added.
Perez and Aureliano Felix were arrested on June 3 in the La Mesa area of Tijuana (search), across the California border near San Diego, in an operation using U.S. intelligence help. Seven other alleged operatives of the gang were also captured, Macedo said.
Local officials had earlier given sketchy reports of the arrests.
The U.S. Justice Department had offered millions of dollars for the capture of Perez and Aureliano Felix and it called the Tijuana-based group "one of the world's most violent criminal drug trafficking organizations."
According to the DEA, the seven brothers and four sisters inherited the Tijuana smuggling operation from "the godfather" of Mexican traffickers, Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, after his arrest in 1989.
Officials say the Arellano Felix group dominated the world of Mexican drug trafficking in the late 1990s and developed a reputation as the most bloodthirsty of its major smuggling groups, killing more than 100 rivals, suspected turncoats, police and prosecutors.
But the gang's leadership has been hammered by losses in recent years.
Benjamin Arellano, reputedly the planning chief, was arrested in 2002. Another brother, Ramon, allegedly in charge of maintaining discipline and killing rivals, was shot to death earlier that year in the Pacific tourist port of Mazatlan.
In other strikes against the gang, police arrested a top lieutenant, Ismael Higuera, in 2000. The alleged financial operator for the group, Jesus Labra, had been arrested earlier that year.
U.S. authorities are trying to extradite the eldest Arellano Felix brother, Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix, who recently completed a 10-year sentence for stockpiling illegal weapons.
But Defense Secretary Gerardo Clemente Vega, whose troops took part in the arrests, expected new traffickers to emerge.
"When you arrest an important capo, several other subordinate elements arise to try to practically take over the handling of drugs," he said.
Macedo said that control of the gang apparently has now fallen to the youngest of the seven Arellano Felix brothers, Francisco Javier Arellano Felix, alias "El Tigrillo," or "The Ocelot," and the attorney general said he was being hunted.
"He has been practically isolated with the arrest of these two," Macedo said.
Perez was responsible for all operations in Tijuana, Macedo said, as well as for attacks against rival gangs. He said Aureliano Felix was the organization's logistics chief.
Macedo said Perez's leading position in the cartel was confirmed by documents found in a drug-smuggling tunnel linking Tijuana to the United States that was discovered in 2002.
Perez and Aureliano Felix will be tried first in Mexico before facing possible extradition to the United States, Macedo said.