Knights Templar Drug Cartel Loses One of its Men-At-Arms

A drug cartel that follows the code of the Knights Templar has lost one of its disciples.

The Mexican army captured a key figure in the cult-like Knights Templar drug cartel that is sowing violence in western Mexico, a top officer announced Tuesday.

Saul Solis Solis, 49, a former police chief and one-time congressional candidate, was captured without incident Monday in the cartel's home state of Michoacán, Brig. Gen. Edgar Luis Villegas told reporters during a presentation of Solis.

Solis is considered one of the principal lieutenants in the Knights Templar, which split late last year from La Familia, a pseudo-religious drug gang known as a major trafficker of methamphetamine.

He is accused in various attacks on the military and federal police, including one in May 2007 that killed an officer and four soldiers, Villegas said. Solis also is suspected of planting and harvesting drugs, managing clandestine labs manufacturing synthetic drugs and of attacks on police facilities in cities around the entire state.

Mexico's attorney general had offered a $1.1 million reward for information leading to his capture.

Solis is a cousin of one of the Knight's Templar's main alleged leaders, Enrique Plancarte Solis. He served as director of public safety in the Michoacán town of Turicato from 2003-2005. He also ran for the federal congress in 2009 as a Green Party candidate, finishing fourth in his district with about 11,000 votes.

Authorities said a judge already had issued an arrest warrant for Solis on charges of organized crime and drug trafficking at the time of the vote.

President Felipe Calderón launched his attack on organized crime in 2006 in his home state of Michoacan, where much of the violence had been attributed to La Familia.

Knights Templar became a splinter group after the leader of La Familia, Nazario Moreno González, was killed in a shootout with federal police in December. A second La Familia leader, José de Jesús Méndez Vargas, was arrested in June, leading Calderón's government to say it had all but dismantled the gang.

But violence continues in Michoacán and other parts of western Mexico where Knights Templar is trying to control territory.

Both groups claim to be devoted to God and to be fighting poverty and injustice under a strict code of conduct.

Drug violence has claimed more than 35,000 lives since 2006, according to government figures. Others put the number at more than 40,000.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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