‘Otoniel,’ Colombia’s most wanted drug lord, captured in jungle raid

BOGOTA, Colombia — Colombian officials announced the capture of the nation’s most-wanted drug lord Saturday, a move praised as the biggest blow to the country’s narcotics traffickers in nearly three decades.

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Dairo Antonio Úsuga, 50, widely known as “Otoniel,” was caught by armed forces in his jungle hideout, The Washington Post reported.

Úsuga is the alleged leader of the drug trafficking group Clan del Golfo (Gulf Clan), which dominates major cocaine smuggling routes through northern Colombia’s thick jungles, the newspaper reported.

Colombia President Iván Duque announced the drug lord’s capture in a televised video message, according to the BBC.

“Otoniel was the most feared drug trafficker in the world, killer of police, of soldiers, of social leaders, and recruiter of children. This is the biggest blow against drug trafficking in our country this century,” Duque said. “This blow is only comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar in the 1990s.”

Duque said one police officer died during the operation, according to Reuters.

Úsuga was indicted by the Southern District of New York in 2009, CNN reported. The State Department offered up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest or conviction, while Colombia offered a reward of up to 3 billion Colombian pesos (about $800,000) for information on his whereabouts, Reuters reported.

Úsuga is accused of sending dozens of shipments of cocaine to the United States, according to the Post. He is also accused of killing police officers, recruiting minors and sexually abusing children, among other crimes, Duque said.

“Otoniel’s capture is truly important,” Daniel Mejía, a Colombian university professor and expert on narco-trafficking, told the newspaper. “He was the head of the most powerful narco-trafficking structure in Colombia, the Gulf Clan, which holds domain of a broad part of the territory.”

Úsuga avoided capture by moving between safe locations in the remote jungle region of northern Colombia, the Post reported.

Úsuga and his brother, who was killed in a raid in 2012, began as gunmen for the defunct leftist guerrilla group known as the Popular Liberation Army, The Associated Press reported. They later switched sides and joined the rebels’ battlefield enemies.

Úsuga refused to disarm when the rebels signed a peace treaty with the government in 2006, according to the AP. Instead, he set up drug operations in the Gulf of Uraba region in northern Columbia, which is a major drug corridor.