Mexico hunts for No. 2 after netting cartel boss

MEXICO CITY (AFP) - Mexican authorities are hunting for the number two leader of the country's most powerful drug cartel after capturing the gang's kingpin this weekend, an official said on Sunday, Feb 23, 2014.

Mexican marines swooped on Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman - who had been on the run for more than a decade - in the Pacific beach resort town of Mazatlan on Saturday, giving the government a major victory in its struggle against drug violence.

Guzman's potential successor, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, is the next prime target of a vast operation against the cartel that has netted a dozen henchmen in recent weeks, the official in the attorney general's office told AFP.

"This process is continuing. One of the objectives now is 'El Mayo'," the official said on condition of anonymity.

Mexican marines conducted massive searches in Sinaloa's capital Culiacan before tracking Guzman down further south in a condominium in Mazatlan.

Zambada could "definitely be in the area," the official said.

"The operations continue in Culiacan and Sinaloa," the official said, adding that actions could be taken after the authorities interrogate Guzman and other detainees.

A US security official told Agence France-Presse that Zambada had nearly been captured in the recent operations.

Guzman, who was taken to a maximum-security prison, was given a 20-year sentence in 1993 but broke out of jail in 2001.

He must now complete the remainder of his sentence, the official said, but he is also facing new charges of drug trafficking, using illegal funds, organised crime and possession of weapons reserved for the military.

The captured kingpin is not facing murder charges, even though the Sinaloa cartel's turf wars with rival gangs contributed to a wave of drug violence that left more than 77,000 people dead in the past seven years.

US lawmaker Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said Guzman should be extradited to the United States to face justice there, warning that he may try to slip the net again.