NUEVO LAREDO, Mexico—The arrest of a suspected leader of a Mexican drug cartel has triggered a series of gun battles in towns along the Texas border.
Firefights were reported in both Piedras Negras and Nuevo Laredo hours after Mexican marines captured an alleged Zeta capo nicknamed "El Taliban."
A spokesman for the Mexican Navy announced the Ivan Velazquez Caballero, 42, nicknamed "El Taliban" was taken into custody in San Luis Potosi Wednesday night.
"El Taliban" rose through the ranks of the Zetas, starting from car thief to become one of the cartel’s leaders.
In recent weeks, he has been locked in a brutal power struggle with his childhood friend Miguel Trevino, another suspected Zeta leader known as Cuarenta or Z-40. Trevino is wanted by law enforcement on both sides of the border.
Nuevo Laredo, the hometown of both men and the drug smuggling hub for the Zetas cartel, has become a battleground as the two leaders wage war against each other.
"We’re all totally panicked," said Manuel Velez, a Nuevo Laredo resident who was shopping on the Texas side of the border. "I’d like to live on this side (Texas) if I could," said Velez.
Nearly everyone who can has fled to the U.S. as the fighting escalated.
A U.S. official in Mexico confirmed the battle has created a need for manpower so the Zetas staged a massive jail break in Piedras Negras last week, freeing 132 inmates.
The split within Mexico’s most brutal cartel has led to a breakdown of law and order in Nuevo Laredo. Residents say kidnappings, carjacking and armed robberies are rampant.
The streets of Nuevo Laredo are nearly deserted and eerily quiet even during broad daylight. So far this month, at least 100 people have been killed.
The U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo is urging Americans to register with State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). The system warns U.S. citizens by email and text about possible threats in Mexico and other countries.
As security deteriorates, many in Nuevo Laredo are hunkering down and hiding in their homes. There’s growing fear Z-40 will hunt down rivals who backed "El Taliban."
"On one hand, people are full of fear and desperation, "said Carlos Canturosas, a businessman who is considering running for mayor of Nuevo Laredo next year. "But on the other hand, people refuse to give up. Citizens want peace and progress to return to Nuevo Laredo."