A Mexican drug lord widely known as “The Craziest One” was killed in an early morning shootout, Mexican officials said Sunday, four years after the government claimed to have killed him in another gunbattle.
The takedown of Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, known as “El Mas Loco,” a leader of the Knights Templar cartel, add yet another twist to the murky, bloody world of Mexico’s drug war.
Authorities in Mexico City said that a body recovered after a gunbattle in the Michoacan state was that of Moreno, 44, the Associated Press reported.
Tomas Zeron, head of the criminal investigation unit for the federal Attorney General’s Office, said the identity of Nazario Moreno Gonzalez had been confirmed by fingerprints, but he said tests would continue.
The Washington Post, citing an unidentified security official in Michoacan, reported that scientific tests have confirmed the corpse is Moreno’s. It said the Mexican navy led the takedown that also killed others in the village of Naranjo de Chila.
Moreno had led a cartel called La Familia when the government claimed he died in a gunbattle with federal police in December 2010. No body was recovered but the Mexican government declared him dead.
There had been reports and rumors that Moreno was still alive in the period following the government’s 2010 claim.
During the period, La Familia morphed into the Knights Templar, a vicious and powerful cartel that was cited by U.S. law enforcement officials as a major source of methamphetamine in the United States.
Moreno’s reputation in rural Mexico grew as a folk hero following the claims of his killing in 2010. The cartel recast itself as holy warriors, using cloaks, crosses and other symbols from the Catholic crusades of the Middle Ages while building shrines to Moreno and spreading his writings as if gospel.
But as the cartel’s bloody reign grew, citizen vigilante groups emerged to battle the Knights Templar and re-establish security in their communities. Vigilante leaders asserted that Moreno was still alive and in control, not dead as the government claimed.
Alejandro Rubido, security spokesman for President Enrique Pena Nieto’s administration, told the AP that despite the December 2010 announcement Moreno had been killed in a shootout with federal police, national government officials in Michoacan in January received information that he was alive and running the drug business.
“Anonymous tips indicated that Nazario Moreno was not only living, but continued operating at the head of a criminal group conducting extortion, kidnapping and other crimes,” Rubido said. “This person was known as dangerous.”
Moreno’s killing, if real this time, would be the latest in a string of recent victories for the Mexican government in its drug war.
Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa cartel and one of the nation’s most powerful drug lords, surrendered when tracked down in February by marines at a condo in the resort city of Mazatlan. Another drug lord, Miguel Angel Trevino, was taken into custody last summer.
The Post said the body believed to be Moreno was under military control in the Michoacan city of Apatzingan.