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In Mexico, the government says security forces have scored another victory against a powerful cartel. It's the second such announcement in two weeks. Marines gunned down the leader of the notorious and quasi-religious Knights Templar drug gang. It happens that authorities first reported the death of this very drug lord more than three years ago. This time, however, the government says it's 100 percent certain they got the right man. NPR's Carrie Kahn has more.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Late last night, the spokesman for Mexico's National Security System, Monte Alejandro Rubido, stepped before dozens of reporters and said, this time, for sure, they got cartel kingpin Nazario Moreno Gonzalez. Through recent arrests of top operatives, investigative work, and citizen tips, Rubido says the government realized Moreno wasn't killed in 2010, as the former administration had proclaimed.
MONTE ALEJANDRO RUBIDO: (Foreign language spoken)
KAHN: And not only was he alive, Rubido said Moreno was still running the Michoacan-based Knights Templar drug cartel. In case there was any doubt, a forensic expert, Tomas Zeron, showed reporters an extensive PowerPoint presentation detailing Moreno's fingerprint identification.
TOMAS ZERON: (Foreign language spoken)
KAHN: It's 100 percent positive that the dead man is Nazario Moreno Gonzalez. Moreno, known by several nicknames - El Chayo and The Most Craziest - hit Mexico's drug trafficking scene after spending 10 years in California, where he became an evangelical Christian. Once back home in Michoacan, he formed a new organization known as La Familia and preached a mix of Christianity, piousness, and ruthless violence. In 2006, his new group made their debut by rolling five severed heads like bowling balls onto a crowded Michoacan disco floor.
George Grayson, an expert on Mexico's drug cartels, says Moreno preached from a so-called Bible he wrote and indoctrinated recruits to save them from tyranny, poverty, and exploitation of the government and other drug rivals.
GEORGE GRAYSON: But he was evil incarnate. He kidnapped, extorted, tortured, and killed thousands of people but always in the lofty purposes of patriotism and piety.
KAHN: After Moreno's supposed death in 2010, his closest allies broke off from La Familia and formed the Knights Templar cartel. Last year, the Templars, however, ran into a new foe - armed civilian groups, fed up with not only the cartel violence but also local police inaction and collusion. Calling themselves self-defense groups, the vigilantes put the cartel on the run. Self-defense leader Estanislao Beltran, who goes by the nickname Papa Smurf because of his bushy beard and blue plaid shirts, says the death of Moreno is a great victory for the people of Michoacan.
ESTANISLAO BELTRAN: (Foreign language spoken)
KAHN: Now, they're in hiding and retreating, says Beltran. Thousands of federal troops moved into the state earlier this year to head off a conflict between the self-defense groups and the cartel. The federal authorities have registered the citizen groups' arms and members but there is fear that some vigilante recruits may have criminal and cartel loyalties.
President Enrique Pena Nieto is getting much praise for Moreno's death and the capture last month of the country's most-wanted drug trafficker, Joaquin Chapo Guzman. But political analyst Denise Dresser says the president must take on Mexico's tougher problems.
DENISE DRESSER: Training policemen, with remodeling courts, with establishing the rule of law in places where it is nonexistent or intermittent, and that is not going to be solved by simply jailing another drug lord.
KAHN: A task, she says, Pena Nieto has yet to take on with as much zeal as going after drug capos. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.