Photo: Jose Manuel Mireles
A leader of the self-defense groups that were formed to battle the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) drug cartel in the western Mexican state of Michoacan has been arrested along with 82 other armed civilians for illegal weapons possession, authorities said.
Jose Manuel Mireles was arrested Friday by federal troops that were deployed to assist state law enforcement, a source with the Government Secretariat told Efe.
The Michoacan Attorney General’s Office said the operation was carried out in the town of La Mira, Michoacan, “for violations of the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives.”
It recalled on Twitter that the accord reached between the self-defense groups and the federal commissioner for security and development in Michoacan, Alfredo Castillo, “stated that any civilian who was armed and did not belong to the Rural Defense Corps would be arrested.”
The vigilantes who took up arms in February 2013 to protect their communities from the Templarios had until May 10 to join that rural state police force, a law enforcement agency under the command of Michoacan’s Public Safety Secretariat.
Mireles, a physician who once served as the self-defense forces’ spokesman, did not sign up for the rural defense unit and continued to operate independently in different areas of Michoacan.
He and the other 82 suspects were arrested Friday for carrying illegal weapons while preparing for a meeting on forming a citizens’ council to combat the Templarios.
Authorities found more than 50 rifles, shotguns and pistols of different calibers reserved for the exclusive use of the army in their possession.
Mireles was one of the most visible figures in the self-defense groups of Michoacan until suffering facial trauma, several broken ribs and head injuries in a small plane crash last December.
He made a swift recovery but was removed as spokesman of the vigilante movement in early May; Mireles accused the faction that deposed him of serving the interests of organized crime.
Also in May, Castillo said Mireles was under investigation for his alleged involvement in the deaths of five people in a shootout pitting rival self-defense groups near the city of Lazaro Cardenas.
Federal security forces launched a major operation in Michoacan in January.
President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration decided to act amid escalating clashes between the Templarios and the militias, which arose to defend communities suffering under the cartel’s kidnapping and extortion rackets.
Reputed Templarios bosses Nazario Moreno Gonzalez and Enrique Plancarte Solis died in March in clashes with federal forces, while the latter’s uncle, Dionisio Loya Plancarte, is in custody.