MEXICO CITY — Mexico said on Monday that it captured a leader f the Knights Templar, a violent drug cartel that has created a major security problem for President Enrique Pena Nieto.
The attorney general’s office said security forces arrested Dionisio Loya Plancarte, known as “El Tio” (“The Uncle”,) a top member of the Knights Templar, which has clashed with vigilante groups in the western state of Michoacan this year.
He is the most senior member of the gang to be arrested.
The Knights emerged from a split in another cartel in Michoacan known as La Familia and have controlled large swaths of the mountainous state in recent years, exorting farmers and local businesses and diversifying away from drug trafficking to activities such as mining.
Plancarte is suspected of being the gang’s go-between with corrupt security and justice officials, according to the attorney general’s office.
Mexico’s government offered a 30 million peso ($2.25 million) reward for information leading to Plancarte’s arrest.
Security forces are still embroiled in face-offs with drug gangs inmuch of the country, and critics have accused Pena Nieto of lacking a clear strategy, arguing that there has been little change from Calederon’s military approach.
Government officials say t hey are determined to capture Servando Gomez, leader of the Knights Templar, who has openly provoked the government by making regular public statements.
Though overall violence declined somewhat during Nieto’s first year, homicides rose in Michoacan, helping to spur the rise of heavily armed vigilante groups which this month occupied several of the Knights’ strongholds in the state.
The government initially called on the vigilantes to disarm, but the so-called “self-defense” groups refused, and security forces are now tolerating their presence in much of Michoacan.
The government’s ambiguous attitude toward the local militias has fed concerns that it could be creating another potential adversary if the vigilantes become unmanageable — or if they too begin preying upon the local population.
The government has offered to incorporate the vigilantes into formal police ranks and give them training, in tandem with job-creating development programs.