MEXICO CITY: Mexican government officials are trying to determine if a man killed Sunday in an early morning shootout in western Mexico was a leader of the Knights Templar Cartel who had been reported dead in 2010. The officials tell the AP that forensic teams are trying to determine his identity, but they believe it is Nazario Moreno Gonzalez.
If true, it would be one of the more bizarre twists in Mexico’s assault on drug cartels, in which two of the most powerful capos have been captured in the last year without a shot fired.
Moreno, nicknamed “The Craziest One,” would have turned 44 Saturday, according to a government birthdate. He led the La Familia cartel when he supposedly perished in a two-day gunbattle with federal police in December 2010 in his home state of Michoacan.
No corpse was found, but the government of then-President Felipe Calderon officially declared him dead, saying it had proof.
Some residents of Michoacan, however, reported seeing Moreno as his former cartel, La Familia Michoacana, was morphing into the more vicious and powerful Knights Templar. The cartel under both names preached Moreno’s quasi-religious doctrine and moral code, even as it became a major trafficker of methamphetamine to the U.S. and ruled much of Michoacan through stealing, killing and extortion.
When federal Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam was recently asked about the rumor that Moreno was still alive, he said: “We can’t confirm or deny it officially as long as we have no concrete evidence, and I can tell you that we have nothing.”
After his earlier reported death, Moreno reportedly helped build himself up as folk hero, erecting shrines to himself and to the Knights Templar, which adopted the Maltese cross as a symbol.
The hunt for him spiked last year as vigilantes, tired of the cartel’s control of the state and government inaction, took up arms against the Knights Templar, saying they wanted to get the cartel kingpins. All of the self-defense group leaders said Moreno was alive.
If true, his killing would come on the heels of the Feb. 22 capture of Mexico’s most powerful drug lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who surrendered in the Pacific resort city of Mazatlan after 13 years on the lam.
The other top capo, Zetas chief Miguel Angel Trevino, was captured last summer. All three operations were carried out by elite forces of the Mexican Navy.
Though Guzman’s capture leaked to the press, Mexican authorities waited several hours before announcing it so that they could solidly confirm the identity of the leader of Sinaloa cartel, Mexico’s largest.