Saturday, November 27, 2021

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How Otoniel, Colombia’s most wanted drug lord, was captured

Colombia’s most wanted drug trafficker and the leader of the country’s largest criminal gang, Dairo Antonio Úsuga, better known as Otoniel, has been captured.

Otoniel was seized after a joint operation by the army, air force and police on Saturday.

The government had offered an $800,000 reward for information about his whereabouts, while the US placed a $5m bounty on his head.

In a televised message to the country, President Iván Duque hailed Otoniel’s capture, saying:  “This is the biggest blow against drug trafficking in our country this century.

“This blow is only comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar in the 1990s.”

Otoniel was captured in his rural hideout in Antioquia province in north-western Colombia, close to the border with Panama.

The operation involved 500 soldiers supported by 22 helicopters. One police officer was killed.

The crime kingpin had used a network of rural safe houses to move around and evade the authorities, and did not use a phone, instead relying on couriers for communication.

In the past, police have found special orthopaedic mattresses for Otoniel in these sparse homes, as he suffered back pain from a herniated disc.

Police chief Jorge Vargas has said the drug lord was fearful of capture, “never approaching inhabited areas”.

But El Tiempo newspaper said that authorities managed to pinpoint the location where he was eventually captured two weeks ago.

Chief Vargas said his movements were traced by more than 50 signal intelligence experts using satellite imagery, with US and UK agencies involved in the search.

Mr Duque, quoted by AFP news agency, described the operation as “the biggest penetration of the jungle ever seen in the military history of our country”.

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