Most-wanted Colombia drug lord caught ‘like a dog’

BOGOTA (AP) âÄî Colombia’s most wanted drug lord was cowering like a dog under a palm tree when he was captured Wednesday in a jungle raid involving hundreds of police officers, the defense minister said. Daniel Rendon Herrera, alias “Don Mario,” was taken in shackles to the capital to await possible extradition to the United States. Rendon 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 U.S. President Alvaro Uribe described Rendon Herrera, 43, as “one of the most feared drug traffickers in the world.” Rendon Herrera’s organization is responsible for 3,000 murders in the last 18 months alone, said Gen. Oscar Naranjo, who directs the national police. Police said he 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. “This guy put bounties on the heads of government officials, so he was Public Enemy No. 1 in Colombia,” said Thomas Harrigan, operations chief for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The U.S. wants to put him on trial in New York on charges of conspiring to distribute cocaine into the United States, outlined in a bare-bones, four-page federal indictment filed last July and unsealed Wednesday. Such extraditions can take months. Some 300 police officers joined the raid in the northern Colombian jungle town of San Jose de Apartado. Uribe said nine months of patient planning and intelligence work went into the operation, which he described as new proof Colombia’s government is capable of combatting organized crime. At the time of his capture, he had been cowering “like a dog” under a palm tree for two days, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said with evident satisfaction. Various people helped police locate the hideout of “Don Mario,” and may share parts of the reward, Santos added. Colombia’s far-right militias, known as the United Self-Defense forces of Colombia, or AUC, initially formed in the 1980s to counter kidnapping and extortion by leftist rebels, but evolved into regional mafias that committed more than 10,000 murders, built lucrative cocaine trafficking operations and stole millions of acres of land, often in collusion with local political, business and military leaders, prosecutors have said. Daniel Rendon Herrera and his brother Freddy Rendon, otherwise known as “The German” for the discipline he demanded from his troops, controlled an area of river-laced jungle near the Panama border known as a major corridor for drug and arms traffickers. 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. Santos said he is particularly pleased that with Wednesday’s arrest, all four paramilitary chiefs who have dropped out of the peace deal to date have been recaptured and are in the process of being extradited. “The arrest of Rendon Herrera will create a huge gap in the leadership of the AUC, so we are very excited about the arrest, the Colombians are very excited,” Harrigan said. “He was more or less a transportation expert, so it’s really going to create a void in the transportation.” Santos said the government has captured 5,600 members of paramilitary groups to date, and that this latest arrest “is a message for all others: It doesn’t matter what they do or where they are, eventually they will fall.” ___ Associated Press Writers Libardo Cardona in Bogota, Devlin Barrett in Washington and Marco Sibaja in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.