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Gang leader blamed in Ciudad Juarez violence arrested

MEXICO UNDER SIEGE

Arturo Gallegos Castrellon is described as the main leader of the Aztecas street gang. Mexican authorities say he confessed to numerous killings, including that of a U.S. consular employee that was previously blamed on a different Aztecas leader.

November 29, 2010|By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Mexico City — Mexican authorities said Sunday that they had arrested the main leader of the Aztecas, a Ciudad Juarez street gang blamed for much of the violence in the troubled border city.

Federal police officials in Mexico City said Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, 32, was arrested in Juarez on Saturday. They said he confessed to taking part in several high-profile slayings, including the fatal shootings of a U.S. consular staffer and two other people in March and the ambush of a teen party in January that killed 15 people.

Authorities said Gallegos told them he was responsible for 80% of the killings in the border city since August 2009. Since early 2008, more than 6,500 people have died in drug-related violence there, according to unofficial tallies.

Among Gallegos' suspected victims were five Mexican federal police officers, the public safety secretariat said in a statement.

It was impossible to verify the suspect's alleged confessions. It is not uncommon for Mexican police to report that arrestees have admitted to numerous crimes.

The Aztecas, who are allied with the Juarez drug-trafficking cartel and claim members on both sides of the U.S.- Mexico border, are believed responsible for much of the violence that has turned Ciudad Juarez into Mexico's deadliest city.

Police said Gallegos ordered the March 13 shootings that killed two U.S. citizens — consular staffer Lesley A. Enriquez and her husband, Arthur H. Redelfs — and the husband of a Mexican employee of the consulate. The statement said Gallegos also played a role in the January attack in the Villas del Salvarcar neighborhood that left 15 dead, but it did not provide details.

Mexican authorities had previously said that a different Aztecas leader, Jesus Ernesto Chavez, ordered the attacks that killed Enriquez and her husband. Chavez was arrested in July.

On Sunday, authorities said Gallegos was responsible for killings, extortion and drug dealing throughout Ciudad Juarez.

The Aztecas and other street gangs have served as foot soldiers in a 3-year-old war between the Juarez-based cartel and a trafficking group based in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.

Similar turf battles have raged across Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched a military-led offensive against cartels soon after taking office in December 2006. Drug-related violence has escalated each year since. About 30,000 people have been killed.

In Ciudad Juarez, the Calderon government has sought to improve social services and job opportunities to counter social ills that, officials say, draw young people into violent gangs. But a drive begun this year to build parks, schools and hospitals and offer job training has not slowed the pace of killings.

Officials said Gallegos was arrested on drug-trafficking charges in the United States in 1996, but did not elaborate.

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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