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Columbia’s most wanted drug lord captured at last, carries $5 million US bounty on his head

Columbia’s most wanted drug lord Otoniel captured

Colombia's most wanted drug trafficker and the leader of the country's largest criminal gang  has been finally captured.

Dairo Antonio Úsuga, better known as Otoniel, was seized after a joint operation by the army, air force and police on Saturday, according to a BBC report.

The government had offered a $800,000 reward for information about his whereabouts, while the US placed a $5 million bounty on his head.

Colombian President Iván Duque hailed Otoniel's capture in a televised video message saying,  "This is the biggest blow against drug trafficking in our country this century," he said. "This blow is only comparable to the fall of Pablo Escobar in the 1990s."

He is accused of sending dozens of shipments of cocaine to the United States, and Duque said he is also accused of killing police officers, recruiting minors, and sexually abusing children among other crimes.

He was indicted in the US in 2009, and faces extradition proceedings which could see him eventually appear in court in New York. Otoniel is the chief of the notorious Gulf gang that controls many of the routes used to smuggle drugs from Colombia to the US and even Russia.

In March, Colombian police and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency captured Otoniel's sister Nini Johana Usuga who was extradited to the United States to face charges connected to drug trafficking and money laundering.

Otoniel was captured in his rural hideout in Antioquia province in north-western Colombia, close to the border with Panama. While details of the operation are still emerging, the president said one police officer had been killed.

Colombia's armed forces later released a photo showing its soldiers guarding the handcuffed Otoniel.

There have been several huge operations involving thousands of officers to capture the 50-year-old in recent years, but until now none have been successful.

Otoniel took over as head of the Gulf Clan, previously known as the Usuga Clan, after the previous chief, his brother, was killed by police in a raid on a New Year's Eve party about 10  years ago.

Colombia's security forces labelled the gang as the country's most powerful criminal organisation, while authorities in the US describe it as "heavily armed and extremely violent".

The gang, which operates in many provinces and has extensive international connections, is engaged in drug and people smuggling, illegal gold mining and extortion.

It is believed to have about 1,800 armed members who are mainly recruited from far-right paramilitary groups. Members have been arrested as far away as Argentina, Brazil, Honduras, Peru and Spain.