The suspect, Jose Rodrigo Arechiga Gamboa, was captured Monday in Amsterdam's Airport Schiphol. He is accused of trafficking methamphetamines, cocaine and marijuana.
Arechiga is presumably a top enforcer for Ismael Zambada, who co-heads the Sinaloa drug organization along with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
Dutch police arrested the Mexican man at the request of U.S. authorities after he landed under a different name on a flight from Mexico City. The U.S. government had asked Interpol for help with his arrest.
The man is being held in a Dutch jail, while the U.S. Attorney is seeking his extradition to face charges in a federal court in San Diego.
The Mexican Embassy in the Netherlands said it was aware of the detention of a Mexican citizen and that it was willing to offer consular assistance if he requested help. It did not specifically say it was referring to Arechiga's arrest.
According to local media, Arechiga is also known as "El Chino Antrax," one of the two leaders of a group of hit men who call themselves the Anthrax, like the deadly disease.
Authorities have blamed the cell for a series of murders, including the killings of three men who were hung off a bridge in 2011, which were seen as revenge attacks after one of their leaders was murdered. The Anthrax helped the Sinaloa organization as it engaged in a bloody war with the Beltran Leyva cartel, when the latter decided to splinter in 2008.
Several folk songs, known as narcocorridos, mention "El Chino Antrax" as an elegant and fit man with a taste for sports cars, yachts and Champagne.
Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat contributed to this report from San Diego.