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Mexico Captures Alleged U.S.-Born Drug Lord

This image released by the Mexican federal police shows drug kingpin Edgar Valdez Villarreal, aka "the Barbie," a member of one of the country's top drug cartels, during his arrest Monday. HO/AFP/Getty Images/HO/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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This image released by the Mexican federal police shows drug kingpin Edgar Valdez Villarreal, aka "the Barbie," a member of one of the country's top drug cartels, during his arrest Monday.

HO/AFP/Getty Images/HO/AFP/Getty Images

Texas-born fugitive Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias "the Barbie," has been captured by Mexican authorities for allegedly smuggling cocaine and leading a brutal cartel turf war that resulted in hundreds of deaths.

Valdez, 37, is the third major suspected drug lord to be nabbed in the past 10 months, and his capture on Monday is considered a coup for President Felipe Calderon's war on the cartels.

The alleged drug lord got his improbable nickname from the children's toy, for his fair complexion and blue eyes. He is suspected of smuggling tons of cocaine into the U.S. Inside Mexico, he is blamed for a protracted battle for control of the crumbling Beltran Leyva cartel that involved bodies hung from bridges, decapitations and shootouts.

The U.S. State Department said Valdez headed a group of assassins for the Beltran Leyva gang. He "is the person most responsible for pushing the battle into central and southern Mexico," the department says on its website.

Heard On 'Morning Edition'

According to NPR's Jason Beaubien, as the reputed leader of the hit squad known as Los Negros, Valdez either ordered or personally carried out hundreds of killings.

U.S. authorities had offered a $2 million reward for his capture, and Mexican officials put up a similar amount. Valdez is likely to be extradited to the United States for trial, Beaubien said, reporting from Mexico City.

Mexico's federal police said the arrest of Valdez was the result of a year-long intelligence operation and that he was in the midst of bloody battle for control of the splintering Beltran Leyva cartel and for control of smuggling routes around Acapulco, Cuernavaca and Mexico City.

"He has been causing a lot of confrontation all the way from Mexico City to Acapulco. He fights for that territory," Beaubien told Morning Edition.

Valdez has a unique biography for a reputed Mexican drug lord. He was born in Laredo, Texas, and worked his way up through the ranks of the Sinaloan cartel before becoming the chief enforcer in the Beltran Leyva cartel, prosecutors say.

Valdez was "one of the rare U.S.-born-and-bred members" of the drug cartels who "had a foot in both worlds," Beaubien said.

"He was a football star [at high school] in Laredo," the reporter said, adding that it ended up "being one of his strengths for the cartels [because] he knew both sides of the border, he was fluent both in Spanish and English at a time when the cartels were expanding even more into the United States."

Calderon vowed that operations to bring down the rest of Valdez's gang will continue following his arrest Monday in Mexico state, an area that borders Mexico City.

Valdez was charged in May in U.S. District Court in Atlanta with allegedly distributing thousands of pounds of cocaine from Mexico to the eastern U.S. from 2004 to 2006.

Although there was no word from Mexican authorities on any extradition plans, Beaubien said if past experience holds, he is likely be extradited to the U.S.

"That has been the strategy of the Calderon administration with these very high-profile figures," he said. "They actually don't want them inside the Mexican prison system for fear that they will corrupt the system around them and eventually break out or continue to run their organizations from inside the penal system here."

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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