Colombia’s most wanted drug dealer and the leader of the country’s largest criminal gang has been captured.
Dairo Antonio Usuga, better known as Otoniel, was kidnapped on Saturday after a joint operation by the army, air force and police.
The government had offered a $ 800,000 (£ 582,000) reward for information on where he was, while the United States had put a $ 5 million bounty on his head.
President Iván Duque greeted Otoniel’s capture in a televised video message.
“This is the biggest blow against drug trafficking in our country this century,” he said. “This blow is comparable only to the fall of Pablo Escobar in the 90s”.
Otoniel was captured in his rural hideout in the province of Antioquia in northwestern Colombia, near the border with Panama. While details of the operation are still emerging, the president said a police officer was killed.
The Colombian Armed Forces later released a photo showing his soldiers guarding Otoniel handcuffed.
In recent years, there have been several huge operations involving thousands of officers to capture the 50-year-old, but none have been successful so far.
- BACKGROUND: Colombia on the hunt for an elusive drug lord
Otoniel becomes the head of the Gulf Clan, formerly known as Usuga Clan, after his previous leader – his brother – was killed by police in a raid during a New Year’s party nearly ten years ago.
Colombian security forces have labeled the gang as the most powerful criminal organization in the country, while US authorities describe it as “heavily armed”. [and] extremely violent “.
The gang, which operates in many provinces and has extensive international connections, is engaged in drug and human trafficking, illegal gold mining and extortion.
It is believed to have around 1,800 armed members recruited mostly from far-right paramilitary groups. Members were arrested in Argentina, Brazil, Honduras, Peru and Spain.
The gang controls many of the routes used for drug smuggling from Colombia to the United States and to Russia.
The Colombian government, however, believes it has decimated its numbers in recent years, forcing many prominent members to hide in remote jungle regions.
Otoniel now faces a number of charges including sending cocaine shipments to the United States, killing police officers, and recruiting children.
He was indicted in the United States in 2009 and faces extradition proceedings that could see him appear in court in New York.
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