A vicious Mexican drug cartel has given a whole new meaning to the term “heart attack.” Reports from the country indicate that one crime syndicate forced some of its members to eat the hearts of murder victims as part of a gruesome initiation rite possibly meant to root out infiltrators.

Speaking on a local television station, Alfredo Castillo, the federal security commissioner of the violence-plagued state of Michoacán, admitted that the cannibalistic acts have been reported, but that it wasn’t a widespread practice. He said it was part of a macabre initiation employed by Nazario Moreno, the cultish crime boss of the Knights Templar who was killed in March 2014, to root out moles or to test his men's loyalty.

"The ritual ranged from dismembering people they intended to kill to sometimes serving up the heart," Castillo said, according to Reuters.

Castillo said that some witnesses have confirmed the practice, but he did not specify when or where the alleged initiation rituals took place.

"There are statements from people who say that they were present when Nazario Moreno arrived and told someone – be it as an initiation, as part of or as its own ritual – 'Today we eat a human heart,' and then he made them eat the heart," Castillo said, according to the Mexican newspaper Cambio de Puebla. "These are facts that we can’t be certain of because we don’t know who was there who could confirm it, but there have been people who have made those sort of statements to us, who, according to instructions that [Moreno] gave, were told, 'We’re going to have a dinner, and what is that dinner, it is this…'"

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Michoacán has in recent years become one of the hotspots of violence related to Mexico’s drug war. The state is a patchwork of drug gang members and the so-called "autodefensas," vigilante groups that rose up in 2013 to battle the Knights Templar cartel. There have been accusations that former cartel gunmen have infiltrated vigilante groups, many of which have been recruited into a government-sponsored "rural police" force.

Federal troops and police engaged in two clashes with armed civilians in Michoacán on Tuesday, Castillo said.

Castillo said the confrontations in Apatzingán began Tuesday morning when federal forces moved in to take back control of city hall, which had been held for days by civilians whose demands and identities were unclear.

Castillo said a civilian was killed when he was run over while trying to flee, and two federal police officers were injured during the operation. He said authorities detained 44 people and seized 13 rifles or shotguns and 23 vehicles.

The second clash came when gunmen attacked soldiers who were transporting the seized vehicles to an impound lot, Castillo said. Eight civilians died and two were wounded, he said.

The army said its troops suffered no casualties in the clash. It is the kind of lopsided toll that has drawn suspicions in previous reports of clashes between police and armed bands. Castillo added, "We have to verify (the army's version) and get witness statements."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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