Vigilantes in Mexico have entered a cave complex with guns blazing as they hunt down the Knights Templar's remaining leader in the group's "final stronghold." But while the endgame may be approaching for the Knights in their current form, the criminal chaos of Michoacan looks set to continue.
On April 22 a caravan of 100 vehicles filled with members of the self-defense groups entered the municipality of Arteaga, the hometown of Knights Templar leader Servando Gomez Martinez, alias "La Tuta," reported El Economista. Federal and state police accompanied the vigilantes, with no violent confrontations reported.
Upon arrival, the vigilantes sent units to the homes of Knights members and, according to the Associated Press, began securing the perimeter of the municipality. In the days that followed, the vigilantes began searching the area's extensive cave system.
The difficult and mountainous terrain around Arteaga has made the area a criminal refuge for decades, reported El Pais. Vigilante leader Estanislao "Papa Smurf" Beltran -- who reportedly entered a cave firing his AK-47 in the air and yelling "Tuta! I'm coming for you!" -- said the caves show signs of use by the cartel, and may have been employed as hideouts.
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La Tuta is a former schoolteacher in Arteaga who has garnered considerable support through acts of generosity towards the local community, reported El Universal. According to the AP, Beltran claimed local people only colluded with the criminal group under threat of violence.
InSight Crime Analysis
The arrival of vigilantes and government forces at the caves -- which many apparently expected to be the venue for La Tuta's final stand -- suggests the his days are now coming to an end.
The continued pressure being exerted on the Knights Templar has taken a significant toll on the group's leadership, with fellow bosses Nazario Moreno, alias "El Chayo," and Enrique Plancarte, alias "El Kike" recently killed. When La Tuta is finally arrested or killed, it will represent a blow that the organization is unlikely to be able to recover from.
Yet while the operational capacity of the Knights is likely to be permanently reduced, it seems unlikely the group will be taken out of the picture altogether. The Knights themselves are the product of the breakup of their predecessors in the Familia Michoacana, and what remains of the command structure will likely try to cling to their lucrative criminal networks, whether they go by the same name or not.
However, as InSight Crime has noted, their breakup also creates opportunities for the Knight's enemies in the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG), criminalized factions of the vigilantes, some of which are already believed to be working with the CJNG, and outside cartels.