Amacuzac, Morelos - Fifteen individuals suspected of working as hit men for fugitive drug lord Edgar Valdez Villarreal were arrested after a gun battle with Mexican police, the federal Public Safety Secretariat, or SSP, said.
The clash – in which no one was wounded – occurred Friday in the central town of Amacuzac, Morelos state.
That state has been hit by a wave of violence in recent months, including the killing of drug kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva last December in a shootout with marines in Cuernavaca, Morelos’s capital and main bastion of the Beltran Leyva criminal organization.
The SSP said in a statement that the 15 suspects are “linked to the criminal organization of Edgar Valdez Villarreal,” a former lieutenant of Arturo Beltran Leyva’s who goes by the alias “La Barbie.”
Since the latter’s death, Valdez Villarreal has been locked in an intense battle for control of the Beltran Leyva organization against Hector Beltran Leyva, known as “El H,” and Sergio Villarreal Barragan, known as “El Grande.”
According to the SSP, the detainees are suspected of involvement in clashes with rival gunmen and of providing security for drug points of sale controlled by the Valdez Villarreal organization.
Valdez Villarreal had formed an alliance with Gerardo Alvarez Vazquez, alias “El Indio” – arrested Wednesday by army soldiers – to fight “El H” and “El Grande,” the SSP said.
Citing intelligence reports, it added that “La Barbie” is fighting the other Beltran Leyva faction for control of different areas in the states of Guerrero, Morelos, Mexico and Nuevo Leon.
Police seized an AK-47 assault rifle, two handguns, five ammunition clips, two grenades and 183 cartridges of different calibers from the suspects, among other objects.
The organization created by the five Beltran Leyva brothers – Marcos Arturo, Mario Alberto, Carlos, Alfredo and Hector – smuggles cocaine, marijuana and heroin.
The criminal organization is also involved in people trafficking, money laundering, extortion, kidnapping, contract hits and arms trafficking.
Two weeks after Arturo was killed, Carlos Beltran Leyva was arrested on Dec. 30 in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa state, where he was going by the alias of Carlos Gamez.
Arturo and Mario Alberto shared the leadership of the Beltran Leyva cartel, which arose as a splinter group of the powerful Sinaloa cartel led by fugitive Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman.
The Beltran Leyva brothers reportedly broke with the Sinaloa cartel boss after the January 2008 arrest of Alfredo Beltran Leyva.
The brothers blamed Alfredo’s arrest on Guzman and killed one of the Sinaloa cartel chief’s sons in a grenade attack on a Culiacan shopping center.
The betrayals and killings sparked a war between Guzman and the Beltran Leyvas, who allied themselves with the Gulf cartel, a bitter enemy of the Sinaloa cartel boss.
The Beltran Leyva cartel managed to infiltrate the security forces and put Noe Ramirez Mandujano, who served as Mexico’s drug czar, on their payroll.
Ramirez Mandujano was arrested in November 2008 during “Operation Clean-Up,” an initiative to root out corruption in the upper reaches of the Federal Police and Attorney General’s Office.
The former drug czar had been taking $450,000 monthly from drug traffickers, officials said.