The arrest of a leader of a prominent drugs cartel sparked gunfights and blockades of burning vehicles that left at least three people dead near Mexico's border with the United States, authorities say.

The arrested leader was identified as Jose Tiburcio Hernandez Fuentes, who stepped into the Gulf Cartel's leadership vacuum as the group lost influence with the deaths or arrests of key members.

Mexican authorities on Saturday confirmed the capture of Hernandez Fuentes, describing him as responsible for much of the violence in the US border city of Reynosa in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.

National Security Commission head Monte Alejandro Rubido told news agency The Associated Press that Friday's violence in Reynosa, across the border from McAllen, Texas, followed the arrest of Hernandez Fuentes and three other suspected members of the group as their comrades tried to free them.

Rubido said on Saturday that Hernandez Fuentes had been difficult to capture because he has used more than eight false identities.

Hernandez Fuentes worked his way up into the Gulf Cartel's hierarchy as its leaders were imprisoned or killed.

Reynosa has been one of the most violent cities in Mexico over the past year, racked by turf wars among the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, two drug gangs fighting for control of border smuggling routes and crime rackets.

More than 100,000 people have died in gang-related violence in Mexico over the past eight years.

Enrique Pena Nieto, the Mexican president, pledged to restore order when he took office in 2012, but although the homicide count has fallen, parts of the country remain mired in violence.

Source: Agencies