Latin America & Caribbean

Colombia Urabenos 'drug gang leader' shot by police

Map of Colombia
Image caption Juan de Dios Usuga was killed in Choco, the north-western province which was his power base

Officials in Colombia say the alleged leader of a powerful criminal gang has been killed in a police operation.

Prosecutors accuse Juan de Dios Usuga and his brother Dairo Antonio of jointly leading the Urabenos gang, which controls much of the drug-trafficking in the north of Colombia.

Police say Juan de Dios Usuga, 44, was shot dead as officers tried to arrest him at his ranch in Choco province.

A police officer was killed in the 30-minute firefight.

The security forces continue to search for Dairo Antonio Usuga.

'Inside information'

Police said an informant told them Juan de Dios Usuga would be celebrating New Year's Eve at his ranch in Casa Verde, in north-western Choco province.

They deployed a special operations team to the area, which moved in on the ranch in the early hours of Sunday morning, local time.

The security forces said Mr Usuga and his bodyguards opened fire and shot a policeman as he was jumping off the helicopter.

They said Mr Usuga was killed in the exchange of fire which followed. Three suspected gang members were injured and arrested.

Ten warrants had been issued for Mr Usuga's arrest for alleged crimes including murder, forced disappearance and forced displacement.

Prosecutors say the two Usuga brothers control a 500-strong criminal gang named Los Urabenos after the area in northern Colombia where they have their roots.

Dairo Antonio is believed to have been at the ranch as well, but managed to escape from the police.

Los Urabenos is one of the groups the Colombian government calls Bacrim, short for bandas criminales (criminal gangs).

President Juan Manuel Santos says the gangs pose a grave danger to the security of Colombia and has made the fight against the Bacrim one of his government's priorities.

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