MORELIA, Mexico – Three hitmen suspected of participating in a plot to destabilize the government by killing security and justice officials in the western Mexican state of Michoacan have been arrested, federal officials said.
The suspects, who were arrested on Monday, planned attacks on Michoacan Public Safety Secretariat and Attorney General’s Office personnel sent by President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration to the state, said the federal commissioner for security and development in Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo Cervantes.
The suspects are also being investigated in connection with the murders of several public officials, Castillo said.
“They have been tied to different crimes, including the murders of local Attorney General’s Office and Public Safety Secretariat public servants, with the goal of creating instability in these institutions,” the federal official said.
The suspects, who have not been identified but are presumed to be members of the Caballeros Templarios drug cartel, planned a series of crimes to destabilize Michoacan, Castillo said.
“Based on the investigation, there is clear evidence that these people wanted to carry out activities, such as robberies of convenience stores, the torching of businesses and attacks on officials who came from out of state, in an attempt to destabilize some cities in the state,” Castillo said.
“These attacks were prevented with the arrests,” the federal commissioner for security and development in Michoacan said.
Michoacan Gov. Fausto Vallejo administered the oath of office on Jan. 17 to 10 officials sent by the federal government to serve in key posts in his state’s Public Safety Secretariat and Attorney General’s Office.
The officials, the majority of whom previously worked for Peña Nieto, were given the task of fighting drug traffickers and dealing with the vigilante groups formed in early 2013 to fight the cartels.
Army troops captured 44 suspected members of the Caballeros Templarios drug cartel following a shootout Monday between the criminals and vigilantes in Michoacan.
The shootout lasted at least 45 minutes and soldiers and Federal Police officers had to provide support to the vigilantes.
The security forces seized 40 firearms, including assault rifles and pistols, from the suspects.
The first vigilante group was formed in Michoacan on Feb. 24, 2013, to fight the Caballeros Templarios cartel.
The federal government deployed soldiers and police in Michoacan on Jan. 13 in an effort to end the wave of drug-related violence in the state.
Federal security forces killed the Caballeros Templarios cartel’s two top leaders, Nazario Moreno Gonzalez and Enrique Plancarte Solis, in February and March, respectively.
Moreno and other members of the Familia Michoacana gang formed the Caballeros Templarios organization after he was reported killed by the government in 2010.
The Caballeros Templarios cartel, which deals in both synthetic and natural drugs, commits murders, stages kidnappings and runs extortion rackets that target business owners and transport companies in Michoacan.
The cartel uses Michoacan’s 270 kilometers (168 miles) of coastline to smuggle chemical drug precursors for the production of synthetic drugs into Mexico.