MEXICO CITY — Mexican officials on Monday announced the capture of one of the country's most-wanted fugitives, an army deserter who authorities say helped create the vicious Zetas gang and is suspected in the slaying of a U.S. federal agent.
Mexican federal police paraded Jesus Rejon Aguilar before reporters early Monday, the day after he was caught — not in the Zeta stronghold of northeastern Mexico but barely an hour outside Mexico City.
Among numerous alleged crimes, Rejon was wanted in connection with the Feb. 15 ambush death of Jaime Zapata, an agent with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency on temporary assignment in Mexico. A second agent with Zapata was wounded in the shooting on a highway near the central city of San Luis Potosi.
The U.S. government offered a $5-million reward for Rejon's capture and worked closely with Mexican authorities in tracking him down, law enforcement sources said. It was not clear what role Rejon might have had in the killing, although another Zeta gangster arrested earlier said the agents were mistaken for members of a rival gang.
Ramon Pequeno, head of the narcotics division of the federal police, said Rejon, alias El Mamito (or Pretty Boy), ranked as the No. 3 leader of the Zetas and was one of its founding members.
Rejon, who in government documents is listed as either 35 or 41 years old, served in an elite unit of the Mexican army, which included a stint at the attorney general's office, before deserting in 1999. That year, authorities say, he joined up with 13 others, most of them former soldiers, to create the Zetas, initially the paramilitary protection force for the powerful Gulf cartel.
The Zetas split from the Gulf Cartel early last year to form their own trafficking organization, and the battle between the two has been among the bloodiest in a raging drug war that has claimed nearly 40,000 lives nationwide since December 2006. Both groups seek to control the lucrative northeastern corridor into southern Texas for the transport of drugs, people, weapons and other contraband.
The Zetas are thought to be behind much of the kidnapping, extortion and slaughter of immigrants from Central America and other nations who pass through Mexico on their way to the U.S.
Pequeno said Rejon was responsible for numerous murders around the border states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon and for a 2004 attempt to break onetime Gulf cartel chief Osiel Cardenas Guillen out of a maximum-security prison. (Cardenas was later extradited to the U.S., where he is serving a 25-year sentence in a federal prison.)
Mexican government investigative documents described a lifestyle enjoyed by Rejon that included trips to Cuba and a fondness for Thoroughbred racehorses.
Pequeno said Rejon was captured Sunday "without a shot being fired" in Atizapan de Zaragoza, a town in the state of Mexico just northwest of Mexico City. The state was holding regional elections that day.
Government security affairs spokesman Alejandro Poire said the capture of Rejon deals a stinging blow to the Zetas, whose special brand of savagery has shocked Mexico. Only one of the group's original founders, Heriberto Lazcano, remains at large, Poire said, although the organization has multiplied.
"We are going to put all these criminals behind bars," Poire told reporters.
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