MEXICO CITY - Mexican officials said Tuesday that one of the two remaining top leaders of the Knights Templar drug cartel was killed when he refused to surrender and opened fire on marines.
Monte Alejandro Rubido, the top official of the federal police, said suspected drug lord Enrique Plancarte died Monday after marines spotted him walking down a street in the central state of Queretaro.
Rubido said the marines called on him to stop, but instead he tried to hide, and when marines pursued him, he fired at them with a gun. After shooting Plancarte, the marines administered first aid, but he died soon after, Rubido said.
His identity was proved by fingerprints and comparisons of photographs, Rubido said at a news conference.
Plancarte was considered one of four leaders of the Knights Templar cartel, which is based in Michoacan state. The gang has been chased out of many Michoacan towns by vigilante groups that have demanded authorities go after the gang's leaders.
In recent weeks, Mexican security forces killed the gang's top capo, Nazario Moreno, and arrested Plancarte's uncle and Templars leader Dionisio Plancarte.
Another leader Servando Gomez, known as "La Tuta," remains at large.
Mexican authorities had offered a reward of 10 million pesos ($767,000) for information leading to the arrest of Plancarte, 43.
It was unclear what Plancarte was doing in Queretaro, a fairly quiet state neighboring Michoacan.
But it confirmed fears that Knights Templar leaders and gunmen may have fled to nearby states following an offensive by federal forces and armed vigilantes to evict the cartel from Michoacan.
On Monday, authorities announced they had arrested another leader of a vigilante "self-defense" force in Michoacan and accused him of participating in the killing of a rival. It was the second such arrest in less than a month.
The arrests come amid a broadening government crackdown on the vigilantes, who took up arms a year ago to fight the Knights Templar. The groups became popular in many towns because they were able to kick out the cartel, whose gunmen had demanded extortion payments from local residents, farmers and businesses.
The vigilantes have demanded that authorities arrest the top leaders of the Knights Templar as a condition of laying down their weapons.
The self-defense groups brought their own form of lawlessness to largely agricultural Michoacan, with rivalries, alleged thefts and possible links to a rival drug gang based in the neighboring state of Jalisco.