Mexico captured one of the country’s most-wanted drug lords on Friday, who had terrorised the western state of Michoacan as head of the Knights Templar cartel.
Servando “La Tuta” Gomez was arrested in Morelia, Michoacan’s capital, without a shot being fired, according to reports.
Federal police show off Servando “La Tuta” Gomez,” leader of the Knights Templar cartel, as he sits inside helicopter at the Attorney General’s Office hangar in Mexico City
The 49-year-old former schoolteacher was the prime target of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s effort to regain control of Michoacan. Last year, police mounted a massive manhunt for Gomez in the mountains of Michoacan with help from a “rural defence” force comprised of former vigilantes who took up arms against the Knights Templar.
A police spokesman said the arrest followed months of intelligence work in the region.
The cartel had ruled over much of Michoacan state, controlling politics, agriculture and mining through tactics including murder and extortion. It trafficked methamphetamines to the United States, and also made a living by tapping Michoacan’s iron ore mines and exporting the metal to China.
The arrest marks a victory for Mr Peña Nieto as he grapples with falling approval ratings and public outrage over his handling of the situation in Guerrero state, where 43 students were allegedly killed by a gang in league with local police.
Gomez is escorted to the police helicopter
Attorney general Jesus Murillo, under fire for months over his handling of that investigation, will soon step down, a senior government official told Reuters news agency on Friday.
Gomez’s arrest came a year after police captured the head of the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. The leader of the Zetas gang, Miguel Angel Trevino, was detained in July 2013.
Gomez, also known as “El Profe” for his teaching career, appeared in several television interviews and videos uploaded on the internet, defending his Knights Templar as a “necessary evil”.
“Our only function is to help the people, preserve our state, and preserve our country from people causing terror,” Gomez said in a video posted online in 2012, sitting in front of images of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and other revolutionary icons.
Mexican drug lord Servando “La Tuta” Gomez speaks in a taped message
A father of at least seven, Gomez is wanted by the United States for methamphetamine and cocaine trafficking. The Justice Department said he is also implicated in the 2009 murder of 12 Mexican federal police officers.
Mexican authorities had placed a bounty of 30 million pesos (£1.3 million) on his head.
Relatives hold pictures of missing students from the Ayotzinapa Teacher Training College Raul Isidro Burgos, during a demonstration demanding the government find them, in Chilpancingo