MEXICO CITY, June 24 (Reuters) - Mexican soldiers have captured the leader of the Tijuana cartel in the northern border city, government officials said on Tuesday, in a fresh blow to the once powerful drug gang.
Luis Fernando Sanchez Arellano, known as 'the engineer', was arrested in an army raid on a house in Tijuana on Monday afternoon, shortly after Mexico qualified for the last 16 of the soccer World Cup by beating Croatia, the officials said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one of the officials said Sanchez, who was captured in the city's La Mesa district, was likely to be moved quickly by air to Mexico City.
The government had offered a reward of 30 million pesos ($2.3 million) for information leading to his capture.
Believed to be in his late 30s, Sanchez inherited the gang from his uncles, the Arellano Felix brothers, who used torture and executions to defend their turf.
The Tijuana cartel was immortalized in narcocorridos - a northern Mexican folk music famous for eulogizing drug traffickers - for its exploits in surviving gunbattles, exacting revenge on rivals and buying off officials.
Drawn from a large family from the northwestern state of Sinaloa, the Arellano Felix brothers became notorious for brutal gangland slayings.
But by 2008 the cartel's leading lights had been captured or killed, and Sanchez became more prominent. He fought off a leadership challenge from the cartel's top enforcer, Teodoro "El Teo" Garcia Simental, that led to a bloody battle for control of Tijuana in the same year.
Sanchez managed to secure his position in the gang after forging a truce with Mexico's most famous capo, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, who was himself captured in February.
In October, one of the cartel's old bosses, Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix, was shot dead by a gunman in a clown suit.
($1 = 13.0068 Mexican Pesos) (Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz: editing by John Stonestreet)