THE president of Mexico has hailed the capture of one of the country’s most-wanted drug lords as a move towards peace for the country.
Servando “La Tuta” Gomez, a former schoolteacher who rose to become head of the Knights Templar drugs cartel, was captured early Friday by federal police as he tried to sneak out of a house wearing a baseball cap and a scarf to hide his identity.
The 49-year-old Gomez led the Knights Templar, a quasi-religious criminal group which once exercised what the country’s interior secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong called “absolute control” over the western state of Michoacan.
The cartel orchestrated politics, controlled commerce, dictated rules and preached a code of ethics around devotion to God and family, even as it murdered and plundered. The gang lost power when the federal government took over the state to try to restore order in January 2014 after vigilante groups rose up against the cartel. Gomez evaded capture for more than a year, while other Knights Templar leaders were captured or killed.
Mexico’s government had offered a £1.2 million reward for his capture, and he also was wanted in the United States for conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine.
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“With this arrest, the rule of law is strengthened in the country and we continue to advance toward a Mexico at peace,” President Enrique Pena Nieto said on Twitter.
Gomez was arrested at a house in Morelia, the capital of Michoacan, along with eight bodyguards and associates toting a grenade launcher, three grenades, a machine pistol and assault rifles, said National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido.
Gomez and his accomplices were arrested without a shot fired, after a months-long intelligence stakeout in which his associates were identified when they gathered on his birthday on 6 February with cakes and soft drinks.
Rubido said the key break came months ago when agents identified one of Gomez’s most-trusted messengers. A series of such liaisons had apparently supplied Gomez with food, clothing and medicine when he was hiding out in the mountains.
Chong said: “We have caught the most important target in the fight against organised crime.”
The DEA congratulated Mexico on Gomez’s arrest, saying he led “one of the world’s most vicious and violent drug and criminal networks”.
The arrest is the latest by Pena Nieto’s two-year-old government, which has been aggressive in capturing drug lords, including the biggest capo, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, in 2014. Of Mexico’s top criminal leaders, only Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada of the Sinaloa Cartel remains at large.
Gomez rose from teacher to one of Mexico’s most ruthless and wanted cartel leaders, dominating the lucrative methamphetamine trade for a time and controlling his home state through extortion, intimidation and coercion.
Rubido said Gomez was behind the murder of 12 Mexican federal law enforcement officers whose bodies were found in July 2009 while he still operated under La Familia. He said the murdered police officers had been on a mission to capture Gomez. Rubido said Gomez started as a marijuana trafficker around 2000, but by 2007 he was already extorting money from municipal governments in Michoacan.
“It’s a very significant capture and [Gomez] is a very important player,” said Eric Olson, an analyst in Mexican security and organised crime. “One has to keep them in perspective.
“They can unleash a lot more conflict and violence – although it’s hard to imagine in the case of Michoacan things getting any worse.”