MEXICO CITY – Federal police have captured the alleged leader of a ruthless gang of killers who work for a drug cartel in the violent border of Ciudad Juarez, Mexican news media said Saturday.
The suspect, Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez, is wanted by the U.S. government on charges of murdering a U.S. consulate employee and her husband last year in Ciudad Juarez, which is across the border from El Paso, Texas.
The newspaper El Universal and Milenio television said the 33-year-old Acosta was arrested Friday in the northern city of Chihuahua, capital of the state where Ciudad Juarez is. Mexican authorities have identified Acosta as the head of La Linea, a gang of hit men and corrupt police officers who act as enforcers for the Juarez Cartel.
Federal officials said they could not confirm the arrest, but federal police spokesman Juan Carlos Buenrostro said a suspect would be flown from northern Mexico to Mexico City to be shown before news media by Sunday.
The federal Attorney General's Office offered a 15 million peso ($1.2 million) reward last October for information leading to Acosta's arrest. A woman answering the reward phone line advertised on Acosta's wanted posters said he had been detained Friday but refused to give her name.
U.S. prosecutors seek to try Acosta in the killings of an employee of the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez, her husband and the husband of another consulate employee in March 2010. The slayings are among the highest profile attacks in the city that has been plagued with violence.
A U.S. federal indictment accuses 10 people, including Acosta, of conspiring to kill the three. Acosta and seven others are now in Mexican custody. Two others, including one of the FBI's 10 most wanted fugitives, Eduardo Ravelo, are still at large.
Besides the consulate killings, Acosta is blamed for two other notorious crimes in the Mexican government's 4 1/2-year-old offensive against drug cartels.
Chihuahua state officials allege Acosta ordered the massacre of 15 people, mostly teenagers, in January 2010 and was involved in a July 2010 car bombing, the first used by a cartel in recent history. Both attacks occurred in Ciudad Juarez, a city of 1.3 million people that recorded 3,097 homicides in 2010 and more than 1,300 so far this year.
Mexico's government says at least 35,000 people have died in drug-related violence across the country since late 2006, when President Felipe Calderon took office and launched a crackdown on organized crime. Other sources, including local media, put the number closer to 40,000. The federal government has not released an update of its numbers since December.
Other cities near the U.S.-Mexico border have been hit hard with violence while rival drug cartels battle over control of smuggling corridors.
In the northern state of Durango, federal officials said Saturday they burned 50 metric tons of marijuana that were found earlier in the week inside a large warehouse in black plastic bags.
The warehouse was in Santa Maria del Oro in Mexico's "golden triangle" region. The area, known for drug cultivation and trafficking, is also where soldiers a week ago found marijuana fields covering 148 acres (60 hectares) with a processing lab and five camps.
In Sonora state, Mexico's military said Saturday that troops seized five metric tons of marijuana near the U.S. border in Puerto Penasco, a beach city popular with visitors from Arizona.
Soldiers found three tons of the marijuana more than a mile (2 kilometers) from the port Thursday, a statement said. Officials earlier reported finding two metric tons of marijuana elsewhere in the same town the same day.
U.S. authorities earlier this year urged tourists to "exercise caution" about visiting Puerto Penasco due to rising drug violence in the city.