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Is the Third Brotherhood Mexico’s newest drug cartel?

May 7, 2014
Knights Templar kingpin Servando "La Tuta" Gomez is said to be the head of the Third Brotherhood.

Knights Templar kingpin Servando “La Tuta” Gomez is said to be the head of the Third Brotherhood.

Like a phoenix from the ashes, the most senior surviving member of Mexico’s beleaguered Knights Templar drug gang appears to have formed a new cartel named La Tercera Hermandad (the Third Brotherhood).

Also known as Los H3, the cartel is led by one of Mexico’s most wanted drug barons, former teacher Servando Gomez Martinez, alias “La Tuta,” according to national security documents obtained by Mexican newspaper Excelsior.

The Brotherhood is reportedly comprised of remnants of the Templars now allied with cells from the rival Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), along with several leading members of the vigilante movement responsible for ousting the Templars from most of Michoacan state.

The gang operates around the border area between Michoacan and neighboring Jalisco, where the Templars and the CJNG have been engaged in a bloody turf war over the past 18 months, Excelsior reported. It is said to run several crystal meth labs in its territory, which includes the towns of Jiquilpan and Sahuayo and stretches to the southeastern shore of Lake Chapala.

The Third Brotherhood would be a fitting name for Gomez’s latest organization given that he co-founded the pseudo-religious criminal enterprise La Familia Michoacana and offshoot cartel the Knights Templar. Gomez – who was interviewed by Britain’s Channel 4 News in February – is now the most wanted Templar kingpin following the recent deaths of Nazario “El Chayo” Moreno and Enrique “Kike” Plancarte. The U.S. government has offered a reward of $5 million for information leading to his capture or prosecution, while the Mexican government has also posted a 30 million peso bounty.

Citing national security documents, Excelsior reported that new cartel has links to prominent leaders of Michoacan’s self-defense squads, including Miguel Angel Gallegos Godoy, alias “El Migueladas,” Luis Antonio Torres Gonzalez, alias “El Americano,” and Jose Alvarado Robledo, alias “El Burrillo.” The latter is also suspected of having been the former financial chief of late Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, who was killed in a military raid on his home in Guadalajara in 2010.

The authorities became aware of the Brotherhood on March 21, when Silvestre Fernandez Valencia, alias “El Chivo,” was arrested in Apatzingan, Michoacan. Valencia reportedly confirmed the existence of the cartel and claimed that several of its leaders live in the nearby state of Guanajuato.Vigilante leader Jose Manuel Mireles also warned of the emergence of the Brotherhood in early April.

However, on May 6, Michoacan’s Security Commissioner Alfredo Castillo said dismissed reports of the new cartel as unsubstantiated. The same day, vigilante spokesman Estanislao Beltran claimed that the Brotherhood was simply another self-defense group from Buenavista Tomatlan – not a new cartel.

Having sprung up in February 2013, the vigilante groups eventually formed an uneasy alliance with the Mexican Army in order to drive the Templars out of Michoacan and end the wave of extortion, robbery, kidnapping and murder that had plagued much of the state. However, rival cartels such as the CJNG were often accused of having armed and funded the vigilantes, while many Templars are believed to have infiltrated their ranks in order to avoid persecution.

Now that is has reclaimed control of most of Michoacan, the Mexican government has offered to incorporate members of the self-defense squads into a rural police force and issued a deadline for disarmament of May 11. Vigilantes gave up more than 4,500 arms in the first week of disarmament, while 2,286 signed up to join the rural police force, Castillo reported on Tuesday.

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