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Arellano Felix Cartel Leader Captured In Tijuana

A poster released by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2009 seeks information related to the Arellano-Felix organization.
U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency
A poster released by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2009 seeks information related to the Arellano-Felix organization.

The leader of what is left of the once-powerful Arellano Felix drug cartel has been captured in Tijuana.

Fernando "El Ingeniero" Sanchez Arellano was arrested Monday afternoon by the Mexican Army, according to BBC News.

The British news agency says the capture was timed with the World Cup match between Mexico and Croatia. Arellano was dining with his family while watching the game, U-T San Diego reports.


According to the newspaper:

One U.S. official familiar with the operation said that Arellano was arrested while in the company of his wife and child at a Tijuana fast food restaurant, apparently after watching the World Cup game of Mexico versus Croatia. At the time of his arrest, Arellano was wearing a team shirt and had his face painted with the team’s colors, one source said.

The Arellano Felix cartel was a long-time rival of the Sinaloa cartel, until Sanchez Arellano formed a truce with its boss, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

Guzman was captured in Mexico earlier this year.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for Southern California confirmed on Tuesday the capture of Sanchez Arellano.

“We were very pleased to hear of the arrest by Mexican authorities of Fernando Sanchez Arellano," U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said in a statement on Tuesday. "While he is not charged in our district, in recent years we have successfully prosecuted numerous members of that drug trafficking organization, which we have described as a violent racketeering enterprise responsible for murders, kidnappings and other crimes.”


Four Arellano Felix brothers — Eduardo, Benjamin, Ramon and Francisco Javier — led the ruthless Tijuana cartel for two decades beginning in the 1980s, but the organization began to crumble in 2002 as Mexican and U.S. authorities worked to take down the foursome.

Three of the brothers are serving sentences in U.S. prisons. Ramon Arellano Felix was killed in 2002 in a shootout with Mexican authorities in Sinaloa.

As the brothers fell, their sister's son — Fernando Sanchez Arellano — stepped in to run the remnants of the cartel.

Federal prosecutors in San Diego said the brothers were behind kidnappings, murders and other cross-border crimes that were carried out to keep their hold on the lucrative drug-trafficking operation in Tijuana. The three serving time in the U.S. pleaded guilty in federal court in San Diego.

In 2012, the U.S. Attorney's Office in San Diego made public a 43-count indictment issued two years earlier against members of the cartel -- but not Sanchez Arellano.

Corrected: March 2, 2024 at 11:30 AM PST
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Sanchez Arellano was among those indicted in the U.S.
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