BOGOTA – A regional boss of the Los Rastrojos drug gang was arrested in connection with the murders of 11 people in Colombia, the National Police said.
Erick James Prieto Mora, suspected of being the Los Rastrojos boss in the northwestern province of Antioquia, was arrested Saturday on the highway that links Medellin to Bogota, the National Police News Agency, or ANNP, said.
Prieto was traveling with his wife and a child in a luxury SUV at the time of his arrest, ANNP said.
The drug trafficker is suspected of being behind the killings of eight people in the village of Remedios and three others in Vegachi in recent months, police said.
Prieto belonged to the Heroes de los Llanos Bloc of the defunct United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, militia federation, operating under the alias of “Victor.”
He joined Los Rastrojos after his demobilization as a militiaman.
Residents identified Prieto as the perpetrator of several other murders in Antioquia and the brains behind extortion rackets and land theft from peasants.
Los Rastrojos is one of a number of groups founded by veterans of the AUC.
Los Rastrojos and the other AUC successor groups, such as Los Paisas and Nueva Generacion, are responsible for a good deal of the criminal activity in Colombia, officials say.
Venezuelan authorities arrested Diego Perez Henao, known as “Diego Rastrojo” and considered the gang’s top boss, earlier this month.
Perez Henao, who was the target of an intense manhunt by U.S. and Colombian authorities, was hiding out at a ranch in Venezuela’s Barinas state.
The Los Rastrojos boss was the subject of a nearly $6 million reward.
The AUC, accused of committing numerous human rights violations, demobilized more than 31,000 of its fighters between the end of 2003 and mid-2006 as part of the peace process with former President Alvaro Uribe’s administration.
The group was made up of numerous rural defense cooperatives formed more than 20 years ago to battle leftist rebels.
Many of the militias, however, degenerated into death squads and carried out massacres of peasants suspected of having rebel sympathies, along with slayings of journalists and union members accused of favoring the leftist insurgents.
Under the terms of the 2005 Peace and Justice Law, pushed through Congress by the Uribe administration to regulate the militiamen’s reinsertion into society, former AUC members faced a maximum of eight years in prison if convicted of any of the scores of massacres of suspected rebel sympathizers attributed to the rightists over the years.
Colombia’s Constitutional Court upheld the law in 2006 but conditioned the sentence reductions on full disclosure and confession of crimes and reparations to victims.
On May 13, 2008, the Colombian government extradited 14 former AUC chiefs to the United States.
The former AUC commanders were wanted in the United States on drug, money laundering and other charges.