After years of speculation as to whether he was still alive, the founder of the notorious Caballeros Templarios drug cartel was gunned down on Sunday during a shootout with law enforcement authorities, the Mexican government said.
Nazario Moreno, known as El Chayo, was shot dead in Tumbiscatio, a village in Michoacán, about 50 kilometers north of the port city of Lázaro Cárdenas, after he refused to turn himself in, government security spokesman Alejandro Rubido said in a news conference.
Moreno’s whereabouts have been shrouded in mystery, given that he is thought to have been dead for the past four years – despite the insistence of Michoacán’s self-defense forces, who claimed he was still alive. In December 2010, then-President Felipe Calderón announced that El Chayo had been killed by Mexican authorities. Later, after reports surfaced that he was still alive, the Mexican government again claimed he had been shot dead in a gun battle.
This time, however, Rubido said that his body had been identified by his fingerprints.
The Associated Press was the first to report Moreno’s death, as the news agency had done two weeks ago with the capture of Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán Loera, the leader of the Sinaloa cartel who had been on the run for more than 13 years.
El Chayo described that torture and death of rivals was “divine justice”
The self-defense forces of Michaocán – the vigilante group that was created in February 2013 to protect citizens from the Templarios cartel, and hunt down drug traffickers and extortionists – had insisted that Moreno was hiding out somewhere in the state.
Also known as El más loco (the crazy one), and considered by the Mexican government as one of the most violent members of the cartel, Moreno was the author of the Familia Michoacana’s ethics code. The Familia was the cartel that preceded the Templarios.
In a handbook he wrote, El Chayo described that torture and death of rivals was “divine justice.” The cartel reportedly recruited its members from drug rehabilitation centers and demanded that they stay off drugs to protect “family unity.”
In Apartzingán, which is considered the Templario’s stronghold, Nazario Moreno is considered a saint by many while the cartel is seen as a religion.
In January, President Enrique Peña Nieto had sent a contingent of troops and federal police officers to Michoacán to control the violence that had rocked the state during last months of 2013. One of the government’s main goals was to hunt down El Chayo.