Authorities in Michoacan, Mexico have arrested an alleged top Knights Templar leader, as the government's pursuit of the group's leadership adds to mounting pressures on the cartel.
Jesus Vasquez Macias, alias "El Toro," was detained along with two other men in the Pacific port of Lazaro Cardenas -- a key stronghold of the Knights Templar cartel -- on accusations of organized criminal activity, reported Informador. Monte Rubido Garcia, executive secretary of the National Public Security System (SNSP), said in a conference that Vasquez Macias was one of the Knights Templar leaders in Michoacan "who generates the most violence."
The Mexican government began an operation on January 13 to restore security to the region, which has seen a recent uptick in violence as three-way hostilities have broken out between the Knights, self-defense militias and Mexico's military.
On January 19, Rubido Garcia said federal forces had seized control in 27 municipalities and disarmed 1,209 municipal police, whom the self-defense militias claimed were colluding with the Knights Templar. A total of 38 people have been arrested in Michoacan thus far, reported Informador.
The federal government and the governors of the six states bordering Michoacan have also signed an accord to create a "security fence" around Michoacan. By signing the agreement, the states of Mexico, Colima, Guerrero, Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Queretaro hope to confine the Knights Templar and avoid a "cockroach effect" in which they spread to other regions of the country in response to security force pressure.
The accord, which also has the goal of demobilizing the controversial vigilante groups, will involve joint operations between federal and local forces in an effort to halt organized crime.
InSight Crime Analysis
The arrest of 'El Toro' and other Knights Templar members, along with the offensive by Mexico's security forces in Michoacan, is placing the group under increasing pressure, as other signs emerge that the Knight's may be in trouble.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of the Knights Templar
A member of the Knights Templar said in a recent interview with newspaper La Jornada that he joined the group because he was poor and needed money to support his family. He was offered $900 per month, but, he said, the Knights Templar were unable to pay him -- a complaint echoed by other interviewees.
The group's apparent financial difficulties could help explain its alleged attempts to ally with the Beltran Leyva Organization to maintain control of drug trafficking in Michoacan, suggesting a level of weakness among them.
The Knights Templar have been known for their attempts to frame themselves as defenders of Michoacan through the likes of videos and narco-banners, which have frequently made aggressive threats to adversaries. Yet their pursuit of a high profile seems to be backfiring as complicit public officials are removed and the federal net closes in.