Brutal leader of Mexico's Zetas drug cartel captured

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MEXICO CITY — Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the notoriously brutal leader of the feared Zetas drug cartel, has been captured in the first major blow against an organized crime leader by a Mexican administration struggling to drive down persistently high levels of violence, a U.S. federal official said Monday.

Several Mexican media outlets reported that Trevino Morales was captured by Mexican Marines near the border city of Nuevo Laredo, which has long served as the Zetas' base of operations.

Trevino Morales, known as "Z-40," is uniformly described as one of the two most powerful cartel heads in Mexico, the leader of a corps of special forces defectors who splintered off into their own cartel in 2010 and metastasized across Mexico, expanding from drug dealing into extortion, kidnapping and human trafficking.

Along the way, the Zetas authored some of the worst atrocities of Mexico's drug war, leaving hundreds of bodies beheaded on roadsides or hanging from bridges, earning a reputation as perhaps the most terrifying of the country's numerous ruthless cartels.

On his watch, 72 Central and South American migrants were slaughtered by the Zetas in the northern town of San Fernando in 2010, authorities said. By the following year, federal officials announced finding 193 bodies buried in San Fernando, most belonging to migrants kidnapped off buses and killed by the Zetas for various reasons, including their refusal to work as drug mules.

Trevino Morales' capture is a public-relations victory for President Enrique Pena Nieto, who came into office promising to drive down levels of homicide, extortion and kidnapping.