By Cesar Garcia
Thursday, April 16, 2009
BOGOTA, Colombia, April 15 -- Colombia's most wanted drug lord was cowering under a palm tree when he was captured Wednesday in a jungle raid involving hundreds of police officers, the nation's defense minister said.
Daniel Rendón Herrera, alias Don Mario, was taken in shackles to Bogota, the capital, to await possible extradition to the United States. Rendón Herrera allegedly commanded hundreds of armed men in a private militia and directed a criminal organization that sent hundreds of tons of cocaine to the United States.
President Álvaro Uribe described Rendón Herrera, 43, as "one of the most feared drug traffickers in the world."
Rendón Herrera's organization is responsible for 3,000 killings in the past 18 months alone, said Gen. Oscar Naranjo, who directs the national police. Police said Rendón Herrera had offered his assassins $1,000 for each officer they killed, in hopes of evading arrest.
Colombian officials had offered a reward of up to $2 million for information leading to the capture of the man whose organization has allegedly served as a key link between right-wing paramilitary groups and Mexico's drug-trafficking cartels.
The United States will seek his extradition to New York on charges of conspiring to distribute cocaine into the United States, the Drug Enforcement Administration's chief of intelligence, Anthony P. Placido, said in Washington.
About 300 police officers joined the raid in the northern Colombian jungle town of San Jose de Apartado.
At the time of his capture, Rendón Herrera had been cowering "like a dog" under a palm tree for two days, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said.
Colombia's far-right militias formed in the 1980s to counter kidnapping and extortion by leftist rebels but evolved into regional mafias that committed more than 10,000 killings and stole millions of acres, often in collusion with political, business and military leaders, prosecutors have said.
Rendón Herrera and his brother Freddy Rendón controlled an area near the border with Panama known as a major corridor for drug and arms traffickers. Before the arrival of their far-right militia, the area was dominated by leftist rebels.
The brothers were among the last paramilitary leaders to demobilize in 2006, under a 2003 peace deal that promised fighters reduced sentences and protection from extradition to the United States in exchange for pledges to renounce violence. But while his brother and other paramilitaries agreed to await justice in jail, Don Mario fled back to the jungle and rearmed, police say.