Naval commandos seeking to dismantle organized crime in the state of Michoacan have notched up another victory, slaying the No. 3 leader of a group known as the Knights Templar just weeks after killing its top boss.
Enrique “El Kike” Plancarte Solis, 43, had fled Michoacan and died early Monday night after a shootout with naval commandos in Colon in nearby Queretaro state, National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said Tuesday. He said that authorities had checked fingerprints and conducted other tests to confirm Plancarte’s identity.
Before the most recent crackdown, the Knights Templar had subjected much of Michoacan to rampant extortion and had co-opted most of its elected leaders. Its criminal influence sparked the formation of armed groups organized to fight it.
Now there are growing signs that those vigilantes are themselves becoming a problem, taking the law into their own hands, killing rivals and at least one mayor, and even allying with the neighboring Jalisco New Generation cartel.
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The vigilante infighting toughens the battle for President Enrique Pena Nieto to bring order to Michoacan, a Pacific Coast state whose fertile fields produce much of the nation’s avocados and limes. It is also rich in iron ore. Pena Nieto boosted troop levels in Michoacan Jan. 13 and assumed federal control of security two days later, asserting that organized crime had hobbled the state government.
Since then, federal forces have chalked up numerous victories against the Knights Templar, including seizing the port of Lazaro Cardenas, which the gang used to ship pirated and stolen iron ore to China, shutting down a major source of revenue.
On March 10, federal forces killed Nazario Moreno, a mystical figure known as “The Craziest One” who gave a pseudo-religious patina to the Knights Templar, which evolved from a predecessor group, La Familia Michoacana. The group is known for its brutal practices, including beheadings.
The remaining fugitive Knights Templar leader is Servando Gomez, known as “The Teacher,” a former educator who left the classroom and helped turned the crime group into a major manufacturer of methamphetamine for the U.S. market.
Prosecutors were investigating Plancarte, a former rancher and distributor of construction materials, for at least 30 different crimes, Rubido said. A 10 million peso bounty _ about $770,000 _ had been offered for his arrest or death.
Plancarte’s daughter, Melissa Plancarte, a singer, posted a plaintive message on Facebook asking for understanding about her father’s death.
“God is perfect and does not make errors. Things happen for a reason,” she wrote. “May God bless those who don’t understand pain and only encourage more violence.”
A leader of the vigilantes, Jose Manuel Mireles, on Tuesday acknowledged that the self-defense movement that surfaced in February 2013 had splintered and been infiltrated by Templar crime figures now acting as self-defense force chiefs.
“At this point we have two self-defense groups in Michoacan: Those who want to clean up organized crime and those who walk behind us trying to do business with people,” Mireles told MVS Radio.
Mireles said that enemies in the vigilante movement have threatened him, and that both Knights Templar and other gunmen want him dead.
“These are death threats not only from the Knights Templar but also from my colleagues, some of whom have made arrangements with the federal government,” Mireles told the radio, adding that he’d made a videotape to be released in the event he is killed that would implicate people “who might have done me harm.”
A fellow vigilante leader, Hipolito Mora, was arrested March 11 for allegedly ordering the killing of two men linked to a rival in the self-defense forces. Prosecutors are investigating the murders.
The federal government envoy to Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo, said earlier this week that a vigilante faction led by Enrique Hernandez Salcedo was behind the March 22 killing of Mayor Gustavo Garibay in the Michoacan town of Tanhuato.
Castillo said Hernandez ordered the mayor’s slaying because Garibay did not want vigilantes operating in Tanhuato.