The Mexican army arrested an alleged drug trafficker suspected of organizing an attack on a U.S. consulate as well as the killing of several soldiers in retaliation for a government crackdown, President Felipe Calderon said Friday.
Calderon said alleged Gulf cartel hit man Sigifrido Najera Talamantes was captured in the northern city of Saltillo, Coahuila, earlier in the day.
Najera Talamantes is suspected in an Oct. 12 attack in which one man opened fire on the U.S. consulate in the northern city of Monterrey and another man threw a grenade that failed to explode. Nobody was hurt.
He is also suspected of involvement in a similar gunfire and grenade attack Jan. 7 on the offices of the Televisa television network's station in Monterrey.
And Calderon said Najera Talamantes "was directly responsible for the torture and execution of soldiers" - a reference to the killings of nine soldiers whose bodies were found in Monterrey in late October, reportedly in retaliation for the army's participation in anti-drug operations.
Speaking before the leaders of the country's humans rights commission, Calderon used the arrest to mount a spirited defense of the army's often-criticized role in the anti-drug fight. Under Calderon, Mexico has dispatched tens of thousands of soldiers to fight cartels nationwide, but some of those troops have been accused of abuses.
"The presence of federal forces, especially the army and navy, has become not just possible, just and legitimate, but indispensable," Calderon said. "The withdrawal of the military from the streets is not possible at this time because of a lack of qualified police."
"I fully agree ... that the role of the armed forces should be temporary," Calderon added, but he said Najera Talamantes's capture "would not have been possible in the present circumstances without the valuable help of the Mexican army."
Known as "El Canicon" or "the Big Marble," apparently for his stocky build, Najera Talamantes is also suspected of involvement in the killings of six federal police officers and one federal investigative agent between 2007 and July 2008.
"El Canicon has been implicated in drug trafficking, human trafficking, robbery of fuel from Pemex pipelines, pirated goods and homicide, kidnapping and extortion," said Army Gen. Luis Arturo Olivar.
Three men and three women were detained along with Najera Talamantes, including a woman described as an accountant for the Gulf cartel. Soldiers seized 10.1 million pesos ($713,000), eight assault rifles, seven grenades, a grenade launcher and two bulletproofed vehicles.
The suspects are being held pending charges.
Also Friday, the attorney general's office said authorities transferred alleged drug trafficker Vicente "El Vicentillo" Zambada to a maximum-security prison near the capital to be held pending a U.S. extradition request.
Mexico grants more extraditions than in the past, but the process can take years and Zambada could face domestic charges first.
Zambada, who was arrested Wednesday, faces a 2003 U.S. indictment on charges of conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine. His father is Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, considered one of Mexico's top drug lords.
By Associated Press Writer E. Eduardo Castillo; AP writer Mark Stevenson contributed to this report