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Mexican police hailed the capture yesterday of the “King of Heroin”, one of the country’s most powerful drug barons, a major victory in the murderous drug war.

José Antonio Medina, allegedly responsible for smuggling thousands of pounds of heroin into the US each year, was arrested in the western state of Michoacán and is being held for prosecution.

Mr Medina, 36, allegedly ran a complex smuggling operation that sent 440lb (200kg) of heroin each month into southern California for La Familia drug cartel, said Ramon Pequeño, head of the anti-narcotics division of Mexico’s federal police.

Yet even with Mr Medina’s arrest the bloodshed between rival cartels — and the police and military fighting them — continued unabated across Mexico, underscoring the challenge that Mexico and the US face in dismantling the gangs.

Ten people were killed in Ciudad Juárez in the past 24 hours, including a US citizen in an attack on an undertaker. Police also found a decapitated man in a shopping centre car park, his head inside a plastic bag near by.

More than 2,600 have died in the city in the past three years. After the shooting of three people connected to the US consulate in Juárez on March 13, a US delegation, including Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State, and Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, travelled to Mexico City to pledge renewed American commitment and aid to tackle the drugs crisis.

In Mexico City federal police said that they had seized $1.7 million in small bills and arrested two Mexicans and two Colombians for allegedly running financial operations for the cartels. The drugs business brings about $25 billion in illicit cash into Mexico each year.