Image: Mexican drug story
Denis Poroy  /  AP file
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent looks down a shaft of a tunnel leading from the U.S. into Mexico in this Jan. 30 file photo. Federal agents have arrested Mexican drug lord Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix, a leader of a major violent gang accused of digging the tunnels.
updated 8/16/2006 6:26:26 PM ET 2006-08-16T22:26:26

Federal drug agents arrested Mexican drug lord Francisco Javier Arellano-Felix, a leader of a major violent gang responsible for digging elaborate tunnels to smuggle drugs under the U.S. border, a Justice Department official said Wednesday.

The federal law enforcement official added that Arellano-Felix, 37, was captured by Drug Enforcement Administration agents, aided by the U.S. Coast Guard, on Monday while he was deep sea fishing off the coast of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula.

He is wanted in both the United States and Mexico for his role as a leader in the violent and sophisticated Tijuana-based Arellano-Felix gang, which includes seven brothers and four sisters from the Arellano family.

The law enforcement official said two suspected assassins for the gang were among the eight adults and three juveniles on the sport fishing boat, the Dock Holiday.

The Justice official and the federal law enforcement official requested anonymity because the arrest had not yet been officially announced.

The Arellano-Felix gang is one of the three large Mexican drug cartels, along with the Gulf Cartel and the Federacion. The Arellano-Felix gang is believed to be responsible for the massive, sophisticated drug tunnels discovered last January.

The tunnels ended in San Diego’s Otay Mesa industrial district. The DEA says the gang is also responsible for multiple murders and the smuggling of tons of marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines over the last decade.

14 months in preparation
Federal agents began preparing for the operation 14 months ago after learning that Arellano-Felix was planning to go fishing aboard the vessel off La Paz, Mexico, the law enforcement official said. They enlisted the help of the Coast Guard in mounting the operation.

The Justice Department called an afternoon news conference with Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen, and Drug Enforcement Administration Chief of Operations Michael Braun to announce what it called “the arrest of a high-profile narcotics target.”

Arellano-Felix was named in a federal indictment that was unsealed in California in July, 2003. The indictment charged him with participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy. The State Department has offered $5 million rewards for the capture of him or his brother Eduardo.

Javier Arellano-Felix was charged in Mexico in 1993 with conspiring to assassinate Roman Catholic Cardinal Juan Posadas Ocampo, U.S. officials said.

The suspected Arellano-Felix assassins captured with Javier were identified as Arturo Villareal-Heredia and Marco “El Catoro” Fernandez, the law enforcement official said.

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