MORELIA: Vigilante militias that have fought a drug cartel in western Mexico for a year entered a key gang bastion on Saturday (Sunday in Manila), manning checkpoints and helping federal forces find criminals.
The civilian self-defense forces had their eye on Apatzingan for months, saying it was the “crown jewel” of the Knights Templar gang and a vital trade hub for the region’s lime and avocado farmers.
Vigilante leader Estanislao Beltran said hundreds of his colleagues manned checkpoints outside the Michoacan state city of 120,000 to “check who goes in and out.”
Heavily armed men were seen making walls of sandbags outside Apatzingan, the main city in Michoacan’s Tierra Caliente (Hot Land), a lush agricultural region.
Another 150 vigilantes were deployed with police and military patrols inside Apatzingan to search “all the homes” of suspected gang members.
The vigilantes said they had captured Antonio Plancarte, the brother of a recently arrested Knights Templar leader. Authorities did not confirm Plancarte’s detention.
Fernando Cano, the Michoacan state deputy government secretary, said the vigilantes who went into the city were unarmed.
Cano said the vigilantes were all members of new “rural defense” forces that were recently formed under the army’s oversight to legalize the vigilante movement.