After several years of hiding, Colombia’s most-wanted drug trafficker and the leader of the country’s largest criminal gang, Dairo Antonio Úsuga, best known as Otoniel has been captured.
According to reports, the drug lord was captured in his rural hideout in Antioquia province in north-western Colombia, close to the border with Panama.
It was stated that the operation involved 500 soldiers supported by 22 helicopters. Reports stated that the 50-year-old had used a network of rural safe houses to move around and evade the authorities, and did not use a phone; instead, relying on couriers for communication.
Harping on the development, Colombia police chief Jorge Vargas said his movements were traced by more than 50 signal intelligence experts using satellite imagery.
“The U.S. and UK agencies were involved in the search.”
It is important to note that there have been several huge operations involving thousands of officers to capture the 50-year-old in recent years, but until now none has been successful.
It would be recalled that the notorious drug kingpin became the head of the Gulf Clan, previously known as the Usuga Clan, after its previous leader – his brother – was killed by police in a raid on a New Year’s Eve party in 2012.
Reports have it that since then, Colombia’s security forces labelled the gang as the country’s most powerful criminal organisation, while authorities in the U.S. describe it as “heavily armed [and] extremely violent.”
The Colombian government had offered $800,000 reward for information about his whereabouts, while the United States placed a bounty of $5 million on his head.
The BBC had noted that the gang operates in many provinces and has extensive international connections. It is engaged in drug and people smuggling, illegal gold mining and extortion.
“It is believed to have about 1,800 armed members, who are mainly recruited from far-right paramilitary groups. Members have been arrested in Argentina, Brazil, Honduras, Peru and Spain.
“The gang controls many of the routes used to smuggle drugs from Colombia to the US, and as far away as Russia.”
However, the Colombian government believes it has decimated its numbers in recent years, forcing many leading members to hide in remote regions in the jungle.
Otoniel now faces a number of charges, including sending shipments of cocaine to the U.S., killing police officers and recruiting children.
Reacting to his arrest, President Ivan Duque described the development as a victory. He likened it to the arrest three decades ago of the notorious Colombian drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar.
“This is the biggest blow against drug trafficking in our country this century,” he said. “This hit is only comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar in the 1990s.”
The president noted that one police officer died during the operation.
Duque reportedly described the operation as “the biggest penetration of the jungle ever seen in the military history of our country,” adding that Otoniel’s arrest “marks the end of the Gulf Clan”.