Photo: Jose Manuel Mireles
Mexican authorities said they are investigating the possible role of vigilante leader Jose Manuel Mireles in the deaths of five people.
The victims died April 27 near the southwestern city of Lazaro Cardenas in a nearly half-hour shootout pitting rival community self-defense groups, which were formed in the state of Michoacan to battle the Caballeros Templarios drug cartel.
The federal commissioner for security and development in that southwestern state, Alfredo Castillo, said Friday there are “some signs” pointing to Mireles’ involvement in the deaths and even “photographs of him holding some head as a trophy from one of the dead bodies.”
In statements to local Radio Formula, Castillo said the case was under investigation and that some witnesses have given statements against Mireles, a medical doctor linked to the self-defense groups in the town of Tepalcatepec.
Mireles was one of the most visible figures in the self-defense groups of Michoacan until being injured in a plane crash last December.
He was marginalized from that vigilante movement during his recovery but in recent weeks has reassumed a prominent position.
Other vigilante leaders, however, announced this week that Mireles had been removed as spokesman for the movement and said they did not recognize him as a member.
Mexican authorities and leaders of the self-defense groups signed an agreement late last month spelling out the timetable for the vigilantes to disarm.
The accord signed on April 25 called for the self-defense groups to begin surrendering their guns, including AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles, three days later and completely disarm over a two-week period ending Saturday.
Not all members of the self-defense groups will return to civilian life, however, as more than 500 have signed up for what will be the new Rural Defense Corps, which will operate under the control of the Mexican military.
The self-defense groups emerged on Feb. 24, 2013, to defend communities suffering under the Templarios’s kidnapping and extortion rackets.
The vigilantes can safely stand down now that federal authorities have killed or captured the top leaders of the Templarios, Government Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, Mexico’s No. 2 official, said last month.