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Justice Department calls for swift extradition of top cartel criminal after arrest in Mexico

<i>United States Drug Enforcement Administration</i><br/>Néstor Isidro Pérez Salas
United States Drug Enforcement Administration
Néstor Isidro Pérez Salas

By Zoe Sottile, CNN

(CNN) — US Attorney General Merrick Garland has called for the “swift extradition” of Néstor Isidro Pérez Salas, described by the Justice Department as a lead assassin for the Sinaloa Cartel, after his arrest in Mexico.

Pérez Salas is “one of the Sinaloa Cartel’s lead sicarios, or assassins,” according to a news release from the Department of Justice. Known as “Nini,” Pérez Salas was captured by the Mexican National Guard on Wednesday in Culiacán, Sinaloa, according to Mexican officials.

CNN has reached out to the Mexican Attorney General’s Office for more details about the arrest but did not immediately receive a response. It is not clear if Pérez Salas has an attorney.

In February 2021, Pérez Salas was charged in the United States with cocaine and methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy, possession of machine guns and destructive devices, and witness retaliation. The US State Department offered a reward of up to $3 million for information leading to his arrest.

The State Department said Pérez Salas worked directly with Oscar Noé Medina González, a subordinate of Iván Archivaldo Guzmán Salazar, one of the sons of Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, who was sentenced to prison in the US in 2019.

The State Department also said Pérez Salas was responsible for the security apparatus of Los Chapitos, a faction of the Sinaloa Cartel. He is accused of being one of the commanders of the “Ninis” cell, described as a “particularly violent” group of security personnel for Los Chapitos.

President Joe Biden praised Mexican security forces for Pérez Salas’ arrest on Wednesday.

“On November 22, Mexican security forces captured Néstor Isidro Pérez Salas (‘El Nini’), the notorious head of security for the Chapitos wing of the Sinaloa Cartel. For nearly three years, El Nini has been one of Mexico’s and the United States’ most wanted criminals, indicted by the United States for his roles in perpetrating violence and illicit fentanyl trafficking into the United States, and both our countries are safer with him behind bars and facing justice for his crimes,” the president said in a statement.

Biden heralded the US-Mexico partnership to “secure our communities against violence, counter the cartels, and end the scourge of illicit fentanyl” days after the US secured an agreement with China regarding the source materials used to make fentanyl.

Biden expressed his gratitude to Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador and the Mexican Army and special forces.

“I want to thank President López Obrador and the Mexican Army and special forces for effectively capturing El Nini, and express our appreciation for the brave men and women of Mexican security forces who undertook this successful operation to apprehend him,” he said.

In response, López Obrador thanked the American president.

“We thank him for the mention, the recognition,” he said Friday.

He also stressed the importance of alleviating the “pandemic of fentanyl consumption” in the US.

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