Leader of Zetas cartel captured, official says

Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, the notoriously brutal leader of the Zetas drug cartel, has been captured in the first major blow against an organized crime leader by a Mexican administration struggling to drive down persistently high levels of violence, a U.S. federal official said Monday.

Several Mexican media outlets reported that Treviño Morales was captured by Mexican Marines in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, long the Zetas’ base of operations. The U.S. official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

Treviño Morales, known as “Z-40,” is uniformly described as one of the two most powerful cartel heads in Mexico. He was indicted on drug trafficking and weapons charges in New York in 2009 and Washington in 2010, and the U.S. government issued a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.

— Associated Press

Assad’s forces on offensive in north

Syrian government troops pounded rebel-held villages around the northern city of Idlib with rockets, artillery and airstrikes, killing at least 29 people, including six children, activists said Monday.

After seizing the momentum in recent months in Syria’s civil war, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are on the offensive against the rebels on several fronts, including in Idlib province along the border with Turkey. Government forces are in firm control of the provincial capital of the same name, while dozens of rebel brigades control the countryside.

The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights said government shelling overnight targeted five villages near Idlib city. Eight women and six children were among the 29 people killed, according to the Observatory.

The group, which relies on a network of activists inside Syria, said the deadliest attack was in the village of Maghra, where a rocket slammed into a row of houses, killing 13 people. Three nearby villages — Bara, Basamis and Kafr Nabl — were hit by artillery shells that killed another 13 people. Three others died in an airstrike on the village of Iblin, the Observatory said.

In central Syria, a car bomb exploded near a police headquarters in the town of Deir Atiyeh, about 50 miles north of Damascus, killing 13 people, including 10 policemen. A child was among the dead, the Observatory said.

Syria’s state news agency confirmed the attack late Sunday, but said a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden car in a residential area, causing an unknown number of casualties. It said “terrorists” were behind the blast — a government term for rebels fighting Assad’s regime.

— Associated Press

Putin: Snowden an unwelcome ‘present’

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday characterized National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden’s long stay at a Moscow airport as an unwelcome present foisted on Russia by the United States.

In comments reported by Russian news agencies during a meeting with students, Putin noted that Snowden flew to Moscow on June 23 “without invitation,” intending only to transit to another country. But he said the United States intimidated other countries from accepting Snowden, effectively blocking him from traveling farther.

“Such a present to us. Merry Christmas,” he was quoted as telling the students on the Gulf of Finland island of Gogland.

Snowden said last week that he would apply for Russian asylum. The status of that application is unclear. Russian news agencies said Monday that no formal application had been received.

— Associated Press

Chinese activist wins appeal: A woman who became a symbol for the groundswell of opposition to China’s labor camp system scored a rare victory Monday in an appeal for compensation in a case that generated a huge public outcry. The Hunan Provincial People’s High Court ruled in favor of Tang Hui, who last year was given 18 months in a labor camp for petitioning for harsher penalties for the men who abducted, raped and prostituted her 11-year-old daughter. At the time, Tang’s case drew massive public opposition and she was released within days.

Fighting intensifies in Congo: The Congolese army shelled rebel positions near the eastern town of Goma on Monday in a second day of fierce fighting that led to rivals Rwanda and Congo trading accusations of aggression. The United Nations, which is deploying a 3,000-strong Intervention Brigade with a mandate to enforce peace in eastern Congo, vowed to halt any rebel advance toward Goma. The worst fighting for several weeks prompted Congo to repeat claims that Rwanda was backing the Tutsi-led M23 rebels. Rwanda, meanwhile, accused Congolese and U.N. troops of deliberately shelling its territory.

German intelligence knew about U.S. surveillance, paper reports: Germany’s foreign intelligence agency has known about U.S. surveillance and storage of German data for years and used it in cases of Germans kidnapped abroad, the daily newspaper Bild reported Monday. Questions over how much the German government and its own security agencies knew about U.S. surveillance have touched a raw nerve in Germany, given memories of spying on citizens by former communist East Germany and the Nazi regime.

— From news services