Mexican troops on Wednesday captured a man identifying himself as suspected Gulf cartel leader Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, one of the most wanted druglords in the country, the navy said.
A navy statement said its troops had arrested a man who "identifies himself as Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, aka 'El Coss,' the alleged main leader of the Gulf cartel," in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
Costilla Sanchez is on Mexico's list of most wanted gang bosses, with a $2.2-million bounty for his capture. Prior to this arrest, 22 of the 37 most wanted men had been either killed or captured.
The brief navy statement did not indicate exactly where the arrest took place, but Tamaulipas is on the Gulf of Mexico and borders the US state of Texas. The statement said more information would be released on Thursday.
In the 24 hours prior to the arrest, authorities said armed gangs stole vehicles and left them in the middle of avenues in three Tamaulipas cities to block traffic, creating road chaos and scaring the population.
Criminals often use such tactics to evade authorities.
The cartel has been weakened since it broke ties in 2010 with its hit men, the Zetas, triggering a brutal turf war between the two gangs that has spread from Tamaulipas to the neighboring state of Nuevo Leon.
Analysts say some 60 000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug war since 2006, when President Felipe Calderon deployed 50 000 troops across the country to fight the cartels.
The latest arrest came a week after marines captured the alleged leader of another Gulf cartel faction, Mario Cardenas Guillen, known as "El Gordo" ("The Fat One"), also in Tamaulipas.
The cartel split in two after Cardenas Guillen's brother, Antonio Cardenas Guillen, or "Tony Tormenta," was killed in a shootout with Mexican troops in 2010, according to the navy.
One side remained loyal to the Cardenas family while the other side pledged allegiance to "El Coss."
Costilla Sanchez joined the Gulf Cartel in the 1990s when it was headed by another Cardenas brother, Osiel Cardenas Guillen.
At the time, the gang was one of Mexico's two most powerful cartels, smuggling massive quantities of drugs into the United States.
Osiel Cardenas Guillen was captured in 2003 and extradited four years later to the United States, where he is serving a 25-year prison sentence.
While the Gulf Cartel has lost power, the Zetas have grown stronger and extended their tentacles to 17 of Mexico's 32 federal entities, according to the Texas-based security analysis firm Stratfor.
The Zetas are battling the powerful Sinaloa cartel for control of drug trafficking routes to lucrative markets in the United States.
The Sinaloa gang is headed by billionaire fugitive Joaquin "El Chapo" ("Shorty") Guzman, Mexico's most wanted man.