Friday, January 13, 2012

Top Zeta leader arrested; linked to 50 murders, including U.S. ICE agent in 2011

"Zeta-44" was third from the top in cartel hierarchy, and ordered hit on U.S. agents

Mexico's National Defense Secretary today announced the arrest of Luis Jesús Sarabia Ramón, said to be number three in Los Zetas' national leadership. Sarabia Ramón, also known as Zeta-44, was captured Jan. 11 "without a shot being fired," according to security forces.

Authorities say that in late 2010, Sarabia Ramón was named Zeta boss of the Mexican states of Coahuila, Aguascalientes and San Luis Potosí. He is alleged to be responsible for as many as 50 executions, as well as kidnappings and extortions of business owners. He was also dispatched to Nuevo León and Tamaulipas to take on the Zetas' primary rival in those states, the Gulf Cartel. The government claims Sarabia Ramón was respected within Zeta ranks because of his aggressiveness and brutality in dealing with enemies. In addition to his moniker of Z-44 he was sometimes referred to as El Diablo ("The Devil"). His arrest will have an "important debilitating affect on Los Zetas," said a spokesman.

Zeta-44's arrest will be of great interest to Washington, since he is alleged to have ordered the February 15, 2011 murder of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent Jaime Zapata (photo). Another ICE agent, Víctor Ávila, was wounded in the same attack, which occurred in Mexico's San Luis Potosí state.

On the day of the attack Zapata and his partner Ávila were on official business, traveling from Laredo, Texas to Mexico City. They were in a government vehicle carrying U.S. diplomatic tags. The men were unarmed, in accord with Mexican law. As they passed through the north central state of San Luis Potosí, on a major four lane highway from Monterrey to Mexico City, two vehicles began following them and forced them off the road. According to Ávila, as many as 15 men dressed in military uniforms and carrying assault weapons circled their car. Zapata rolled down his window to confirm that they were federal agents, and the men began firing at point blank range. The assailants fled immediately. Details: Los Zetas killer charged in death of U.S. immigration agent is extradited by Mexico:

Another Zeta alleged to have actually carried out the attack, Julián Espinoza, was extradited to the United States on December 20. He faces charges of murder of a federal agent and attempted murder of an agent on international duty. Espinoza, who was arrested soon after the events, litigated in Mexican courts in an effort to prevent his extradition, but lost his final legal battle last month and was turned over to the FBI. He appeared in federal court in Washington, D.C. on December 21, and has another hearing on January 25.

Authorities say that Sarabia Ramón, or Zeta-44, issued the order to Julián Espinoza to attack the two U.S. ICE agents. The motive remains unclear, although Espinoza told Mexican police that it was a case of "mistaken identity," and that the Zetas thought they were attacking members of a rival organization.

Rolling down Mexico Highway 57, a door lock design could have saved a life:

Hit man Julián Espinoza is now in U.S. custody, facing multiple life terms. As in all such cases involving Mexican nationals, the U.S. waived the death penalty as a condition of his extradition.

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