Mexico captures "Pacific Queen" drug smuggler

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MEXICO CITY, Sep 29 (Reuters) Mexican police have captured Sandra Avila, known as the ''Queen of the Pacific,'' one of Mexico's highest profile woman drug smugglers, the government said.

Avila helped build up the Sinaloa cartel on Mexico's Pacific Coast in the 1990s via her friendships with the gang's leaders including Joaquin ''Shorty'' Guzman, Mexico's most wanted man.

She was caught in her car near her house in the Mexican capital, intelligence officials told a news conference yesterday.

''Federal police identified a house in the south of the city ... that was the Queen of the Pacific's home under the name Daniela Garcia Chavez,'' said Patricio Patino, deputy intelligence chief at the public security ministry.

Avila, who is married to a Colombian drug trafficker, faces organised crime and money laundering charges in Mexico and the United States.

She won her nickname for helping to develop smuggling routes up Mexico's Pacific Coast into California, as well as through the Arizona desert.

She was thought to run her operations out of Mexico's central city of Guadalajara, coordinating shipments of Colombian cocaine north into Mexico and the United States.

Separately in Sinaloa, dozens of men with assault rifles stormed a hospital in western Mexico and pulled a prisoner convicted of murder off the operating table to spirit him from custody, authorities said yesterday.

Ruben Beltran was being guarded by police during an operation to repair a wound to his side that he sustained in jail in the city of Culiacan in Sinaloa state.

''The prisoner was in the operating room when an armed group took everyone by surprise and disarmed the guards,'' said Sinaloa state health official Arturo Borboa. ''It seems they were between 30 and 40 people.'' The gunmen overwhelmed two prison guards and seven state police officers, one of whom was wounded. All of the gunmen escaped with the prisoner.

Reuters MP VP0658

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