Army troops captured 44 suspected members of the Caballeros Templarios drug cartel following a shootout between the criminals and vigilantes in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, federal officials said.
Four people were wounded in the shootout, but officials did not say whether they were vigilantes or cartel members.
The shootout happened around 9:00 a.m. Monday near the Benito Juarez district in Huetamo, a city on the border with Guerrero state, the office of the federal commissioner for security and development in Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo Cervantes, told Efe.
The cartel gunmen waited behind barricades for the vigilantes, who belong to the group led by Estanislao Beltran, who is one of the spokesmen for the community self-defense groups.
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 cartel members entered Huetamo several days ago and posed as members of a vigilante group, federal officials said.
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.