Mexican marines detain alleged leader of Gulf drug cartel, the gang that kidnapped, killed Americans

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Mexican marines detained one of the top leaders of the Gulf drug cartel, the gang that kidnapped four Americans and killed two of them in March 2023. The public safety department of the border state of Tamaulipas said the suspect was arrested in the neighbouring state of Nuevo Leon and identified him as “La Kena.” That was the nickname the state previously listed on a Tamaulipas wanted poster for Jose Alberto Garcia Vilano in 2022. Mexico’s national arrest registry said Garcia Vilano was taken into custody on Thursday.

Mexico’s Navy Department said in a statement that marines had detained a suspect it called “one of the key leaders of one of the most powerful criminal organisations in Tamaulipas,” adding he was “one of the main targets of the Drug Enforcement Administration,” but did not provide his name. Miguel Trevino, the mayor San Pedro Garza García, located on the outskirts of Monterrey and considered one of Mexico’s wealthiest communities, confirmed that García Vilano was arrested at a local shopping mall.

In 2022, Tamaulipas state prosecutors also identified García Vilano by a second nickname, “Cyclone 19,” and had offered a USD 150,000 reward for his arrest. The Cyclones are one of the most powerful and violent factions of the now-divided Gulf cartel. The kidnapping and killing of the Americans has been linked to another faction, known as “The Scorpions.” The four Americans crossed into the border city of Matamoros from Texas in March so that one of them could have cosmetic surgery. They were fired on in downtown Matamoros and then loaded into a pickup truck.

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Americans Zindell Brown and Shaeed Woodard died in the attack; Eric Williams and Latavia McGee survived. Most of them had grown up together in the small town of Lake City, South Carolina. A Mexican woman, Areli Pablo Servando, 33, was also killed, apparently by a stray bullet. The Gulf drug cartel turned over five men to police soon after the abduction. A letter claiming to be from the Scorpions faction condemned the violence and said the gang had turned over to authorities its own members who were responsible. A Mexican woman also died in the March 3 shootings.

“We have decided to turn over those who were directly involved and responsible in the events, who at all times acted under their own decision-making and lack of discipline,” according to the letter.