Mexico arrests notorious Juarez drug cartel leader Vicente Carrillo Fuentes
Border crossing El Paso Juarez (AFP)

Mexican police have captured suspected Juarez drug cartel leader Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, whose gang engaged in turf wars that have left thousands of people dead, authorities said Thursday.

Carrillo Fuentes, alias "El Viceroy," was arrested by federal police in Torreon, a city in the northern state of Coahuila, a spokesman for the national security commission told AFP.

His capture gives President Enrique Pena Nieto another victory against the country's major drug traffickers at a time of national outrage over fears that 43 students were killed by a police-backed gang.

The United States had offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the capture of the 51-year-old drug lord, while Mexico offered $2.2 million.

The FBI says Carrillo Fuentes may have scars on his face from plastic surgery. His cartel is allegedly responsible for shipping tons of cocaine and marijuana into the United States, the FBI says.

An official in the Mexican attorney general's office said Carrillo Fuentes had kept "a very low profile" in recent years.

His arrest came just a week after the capture of Hector Beltran Leyva, head of the Beltran-Leyva crime family. Carrillo Fuentes' nemesis, Sinaloa cartel kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, was arrested in February.

US Drug Enforcement Administration chief Michele Leonhart congratulated Mexico for catching "one of history's most notorious drug traffickers."

"Carrillo Fuentes was the leader of the Juarez cartel and facilitated murder and violence in Mexico while fueling addiction in the United States and across the world," Leonhart said.

Based in Ciudad Juarez, a city on the border with the US state of Texas, the Juarez cartel fought against the Sinaloa cartel for control of the major drug transit route.

More than 10,000 people died in gang wars in the past eight years in Ciudad Juarez, making it a symbol of Mexico's relentless drug violence.

The city was once known as the world's murder capital, but the homicide rate has dropped dramatically in recent years.

Murders peaked at 3,116 in 2010, when more than 300 bodies piled up in a single month.

Analysts believe violence has tapered off in the city because the Sinaloa cartel won the war, though officials credit police action and a crime prevention program.

- 'Lord of the Skies' -

The Juarez cartel was founded by Carrillo Fuentes' brother.

Amado Carrillo Fuentes, also known as "The Lord of the Skies," was considered one of Latin America's biggest drug traffickers until he died during plastic surgery in Mexico City in 1997.

But some in Mexico believe that he is still alive. He earned his nickname by flying his own drug-filled planes.

Pena Nieto's government has killed or captured more than 80 of the 122 most wanted men in Mexico.

The president came into office in December 2012 vowing to bring down violence that left tens of thousands of people dead under his predecessor, Felipe Calderon.

While the murder rate has fallen, Pena Nieto is now facing a human rights scandal after local police allied with a gang attacked busloads of students in the southern state of Guerrero on September 26.

Six people died in the shootings while 43 of the student teachers have vanished amid fears they were executed by the Guerreros Unidos gang, an offshoot of the Beltran Leyva cartel.