Officials announced on Saturday that Colombia’s most sought drug trafficker, “Otoniel,” had been apprehended, marking a big success for the administration of the world’s top cocaine exporter.
Dairo Antonio Usuga, the leader of the Gulf Clan, the country’s largest narco-trafficking group, was apprehended near one of his key bases in Necocli, near the Panamanian border.
The government released photos of Otoniel, 50, who was handcuffed and surrounded by soldiers.
“This is the hardest strike to drug trafficking in our country this century,” President Ivan Duque said in a message, adding that the arrest was “only comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar,” the notorious Colombian narco-trafficking kingpin.
The operation, which resulted in the death of one police officer, was carried out by 500 soldiers backed by 22 helicopters in the Necocli municipality.
It was “the biggest penetration of the jungle ever seen in the military history of our country”, Mr. Duque said.
A handcuffed Otoniel was subsequently seen landing in Bogota and being brought into arrest under heavy security, according to a police live stream.
During a press conference, Colombian police director Jorge Vargas stated that officials conducted “an important satellite operation with agencies from the United States and the United Kingdom.”
Otoniel was hiding in the woods in the Uraba region, according to police, and did not use a phone, instead depending on couriers to communicate.
Mr. Vargas said he “slept there in the rain, never approaching inhabited areas” because he was afraid of authorities.
The US has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Otoniel, one of Colombia’s most wanted persons.
He was indicted in the United States in 2009 and is currently awaiting extradition to the country, where he would appear in federal court in the Southern District of New York.
The Colombian government accuses the group of being one of the main drivers of the worst spell of nationwide violence since the signing of a peace accord with FARC guerillas in 2016. The gang is financed mostly by drug trafficking, illicit mining, and extortion.
The Gulf Clan is present in almost 300 municipalities in the country, according to the independent think tank Indepaz. However, recent government efforts have seen the organization decimated.