Suspected Caballeros Templarios drug cartel gunmen engaged in a shootout with vigilantes in the western Mexican state of Michoacan, a vigilante leader said.
Vigilantes launched an operation Saturday in Tingambato after receiving a tip that an avocado grower had been kidnapped last week, Jose Manuel Mirele Valverde, one of the founders of the community self-defense groups operating in Michoacan, told reporters.
The suspected cartel gunmen attacked the vigilantes in Tingambato, but they were repelled and ended up with two men wounded before withdrawing, Mireles said.
Army troops are also patrolling Tingambato, the vigilante leader said.
“State police officers and organized citizens have established a presence in Tingambato,” Michoacan Public Safety Secretary Carlos Hugo Castellanos said in a Twitter post.
Mireles’s vehicle was attacked as he drove through Tingambato with civilian and Federal Police escorts, a state official told Efe.
The vigilante leader was not hurt, but several of the vehicles were hit by bullets, the official said.
The first vigilante group was formed in Michoacan on Feb. 24, 2013, to fight the cartel.
Vigilante groups operate in 30 of the state’s 113 cities.
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.
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.