One of Mexico’s most wanted fugitives – Knights Templar drug cartel leader Servando Gomez – has been captured, police have said.
According to Sky News, the 49-year-old gang boss and former primary school teacher was detained by federal officers as he left a house in Morelia, Michoacan, following months of intelligence work, officials said.
Gomez was taken to Mexico City and frogmarched in front of TV cameras, as two masked federal police officers held him down by the neck and led him into a helicopter.
The kingpin had eluded authorities last year despite a massive manhunt in the mountains of Michoacan with help from a “rural defence” force comprised of former vigilantes, who had taken up arms against the Knights Templar.
With his arrest, the authorities have now taken down all the top leaders of the cult-like cartel, dealing a huge blow to a group that once dominated the agricultural and mining state through murder, kidnappings and extortion.
Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said: “Today we have achieved the most important objective in the fight against organised crime: The detention of the most wanted criminal in all of Mexico.”
The capture is a much-needed victory for President Enrique Pena Nieto amid public anger over his handling of violence in the neighbouring state of Guerrero, where 43 students were allegedly killed by a gang in league with local police.
President Nieto said the arrest “strengthens the rule of law and we continue marching toward a peaceful Mexico”.
But Alejandro Hope, a former Mexican intelligence official, said Gomez’s capture was symbolic and would “not majorly change the criminal scene”.
He said Michoacan is struggling with the emergence of new armed groups and infighting among vigilantes.
Gomez became the Knights Templar’s de facto boss after the group’s founder, Nazario Moreno, was killed by marines in March 2014. Moreno had been wrongly declared dead by officials in 2010.
Unlike the more shadowy gangsters of Mexico’s underworld, Gomez was a publicity seeker who appeared in online videos and television interviews.
He nurtured a Robin Hood image in his mountain hometown of Arteaga, where Gomez threw parties and gave out cash.
Some of his videos ensnared local politicians caught casually chatting with him around a table, including a former interim governor who was later arrested.
Authorities had a $2m reward for his capture, seeking him for alleged kidnappings, extortion, murder and drug trafficking.
At the height of its power, the cartel imported drug precursors from Asia to manufacture crystal meth before exporting the potent drug to the US.