Soldiers take selfies with Colombias most-wanted drug lord after his capture

The most wanted drug trafficker in Colombia – and the leader of the country's biggest criminal gang – has been captured.

In a large-scale operation by the army, air force and police, which involved 22 helicopters and 500 soldiers, Dairo Antonio Úsuga, better known as Otoniel, was finally brought into custody.

One police officer was killed in the operation, which saw Otoniel captured in his rural hideout in Antioquia province in north-western Colombia.

This comes after the Colombian government had offered a $800,000 (£582,000) reward for information about the 50-year-old's whereabouts, while the US placed a $5m bounty on his head.

Following his arrest, officers did not hesitate in capturing a series of selfies with the drug lord, who could be seen in handcuffs wearing rubber boots.

The country's President, Iván Duque, has since hailed Otoniel's capture in a televised video message, 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."

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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".

To evade police, Otoniel had been using a network of rural safe houses to move around.

He did not use a phone, and instead relied on couriers for communication.

But according to El Tiempo newspaper, his location was pinpointed two weeks ago in an intense search which involved agencies from both the US and UK.

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Police chief Jorge Vargas said his movements were traced by more than 50 signal intelligence experts using satellite imagery.

Several huge operations involving thousands of officers have been carried out in recent years to capture Otoniel but until now none had been successful.

When the head of the Gulf Clan – Otoniel's brother – was killed by police in a raid on a New Year's Eve party almost 10 years ago, he became the new leader of the gang, which Colombia's security forces have labelled as the country's most powerful criminal organisation.

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The Gulf Clan has extensive international connections and is engaged in drug and people smuggling, illegal gold mining and extortion.

Its 1,800 armed members are mainly recruited from far-right paramilitary groups.

The gang controls many of the routes used to smuggle drugs from Colombia to the US, and as far away as Russia.

The Colombian government, however, believes it has decimated its numbers in recent years, forcing many leading members to hide in remote regions in the jungle.

Otoniel now faces a number of charges, including sending shipments of cocaine to the US, killing police officers and recruiting children.

He was indicted in the US in 2009, and faces extradition proceedings, which could see him eventually appear in court in New York.

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