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Colombia’s most-wanted drug trafficker arrested, government says

AMERICA
By Winfrey Owino and Agencies | October 24th 2021
Dairo Antonio Usuga was arrested following a joint operation between the police and the Army. [Courtesy]

Colombia's most-wanted drug trafficker and leader of the country's largest criminal network has been captured after years of being sought by the authorities.

Dairo Antonio Úsuga was arrested after a joint operation by the army, air force and police on Saturday, October 23.

Usuga, popularly known as Otoniel, was captured close to the border in Panama, in Antioquia province in north-western Colombia believed to be his rural hideout.

Prior to his seizure, the government had offered $800,000 (about Sh 80million) as a reward for information about Otoniel’s whereabouts.

The operation involved 500 soldiers supported by 22 helicopters in which one police officer was killed during the operation.

Reports by the BBC indicated that he was fond of using a network of rural safe houses to move around and evade the authorities. He did not use a phone, instead, he relied on couriers for communication, BBC adds.

Police chief Jorge Vargas said Otoniel’s movements were traced by more than 50 signal intelligence experts involving the US and UK agencies.

According to the AFP news agency, Mr Duque described the operation as "the biggest penetration of the jungle ever seen in the military history of our country".

Colombia's armed forces later released a photo showing its soldiers guarding Otoniel, who was in handcuffs and wearing rubber boots.

Before he was captured, there had been several unsuccessful operations involving thousands of officers to capture the 50-year-old in recent years.

President Iván Duque hailed 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 only comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar in the 1990s."

Otoniel became the head of the Gulf Clan after its previous leader, his brother, was killed by police in a raid about a decade ago.

Security forces in Colombia then labelled the gang as ‘the most powerful criminal organisation’ as the US described it as heavily armed and extremely violent, BBC reports.

The gang is believed to have about 1,800 armed members who have been arrested in Argentina, Brazil, Honduras, Peru and Spain and controls many of the routes used to smuggle drugs from Colombia to the US, and as far away as Russia.

The Colombian government, however, 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 US, killing police officers and recruiting children.

He was indicted in the US in 2009 and faces extradition proceedings, which could see him eventually appear in court in New York.

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