The reputed head of one of Mexico's most violent drug cartels has appeared in a California federal court, three days after he was extradited to the United States on drug trafficking and other charges.
Security was tight as Benjamin Arellano Felix went before a judge in San Diego Monday to plead not guilty to the charges against him. Authorities say Arellano Felix heads the cartel bearing his last name. He is one of the highest-profile cartel members extradited under the administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
Word of Friday's extradition came the same day that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Mexican counterpart, Patricia Espinosa, met in Washington to discuss the fight against drug cartels.
Also Friday, seven Republican lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives urged Clinton to support the labeling of Mexican drug cartels as terrorist groups. They described the cartels as a "dangerous threat" to U.S. national security, noting the United States must make sure Mexico does not become a haven for terrorists.
Mexican authorities say Arellano Felix led the cartel with some of his brothers from the 1980s until his arrest in Mexico in 2002. Charges against him include conspiracy, money laundering, drug trafficking and organized crime.
More than 35,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since Mexico's government launched military operations against the drug cartels in December 2006.
The United States, which shares a 3,200-kilometer border with Mexico, has promised training and equipment to Mexico's security forces under the three-year, $1.3 billion Merida Initiative to combat organized crime.