MEXICO CITY – Residents of Tancitaro, a city in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, armed themselves and killed nine members of the Caballeros Templarios drug cartel, a self-defense group leader said.
The incident occurred on Saturday after residents armed with rifles and pistols gathered in the city’s plaza after hearing the bells at the main Catholic church pealing, Jose Manuel Mireles, a physician and leader of one of the nine self-defense groups operating in Michoacan, told Efe.
Armed civilians and members of the vigilante groups in the nearby cities of Buenavista Tomatlan, Tepalcatapec and Coalcoman provided support to the armed residents in Tancitaro.
Residents put up barricades on the five main thoroughfares in Tancitaro to control access.
An armed group of vigilantes riding in four armored SUVs seized from the cartel in February drove into El Pareo, a village in a forested area that is a base for Los Caballeros Templarios, Mireles said.
Two members of the vigilante group were seriously wounded when drug traffickers opened fire with assault rifles and threw fragmentation grenades at the convoy, Mireles said.
The vigilantes took cover at an abandoned construction site and repelled the attack, killing nine drug traffickers, Mireles said.
Tancitaro residents took over city hall and ordered the mayor to leave, Michoacan Gov. Fausto Vallejo Figueroa, a member of the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, said in a statement.
Self-defense groups are active in the cities of Aguililla, Tepalcatepec, Buenavista, Coalcoman, Aquila, Los Reyes, Cheran, Paracho and Tancitaro.
The vigilante groups were formed on Feb. 24 to deal with a wave of murders, kidnappings, rapes and other crimes by drug traffickers.
Mexico City’s Milenio newspaper reported earlier this month, citing a government intelligence report, that the Caballeros Templarios were paying 325 million pesos (nearly $25 million) in bribes annually to different officials in Michoacan.
Los Caballeros Templarios, which was founded in March 2011 by former members of the La Familia Michoacana cartel, deals in both synthetic drugs and natural drugs.
The gang commits murders, stages kidnappings and runs extortion rackets that target business owners and transport companies, affecting everyday life.
Michoacan’s forests and mountains are used by drug traffickers to grow marijuana and produce synthetic drugs.
Los Caballeros Templarios operates in Michoacan, Guanajuato, Guerrero, Mexico, Colima, Chiapas, Tabasco, Morelos, Baja California and Tamaulipas states.