MEXICO CITY — Mexican security forces killed a drug cartel boss of the La Familia crime syndicate, known for its horrific brutality and long tentacles into dozens of U.S. cities, a government official said Friday.
Nazario Moreno, 40, died during two days of shootouts and unrest in Apatzingan in the state of Michoacan, National Security Council spokesman Alejandro Poire said. Five federal police officers and three civilians also were killed in the clashes.
"Various sources and information obtained from the operation agree that Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, also known as 'El Chayo' or 'The Doctor,' the main leader and one of the founders of La Familia, was shot dead yesterday," Poire said.
La Familia, considered Mexico's most violent cartel with branches stretching to California's Central Valley and the Southeastern United States, initiated some of the bloodiest tactics of Mexican drug gangs, including the first beheadings of rivals in 2006.
Also known as "The Craziest One," Moreno instilled religious fervor in his followers, ordering them to read the Bible and self-published pamphlets of his own aphorisms for self-improvement in which Moreno exhorts them to Christian living.
La Familia recruits its soldiers among drug addicts and the downtrodden, mostly in Michoacan state, and experts say the crime syndicate has elements of a pseudo-religious cult.
As a young adult, Moreno is thought to have spent time in Redwood City, San Jose, Fresno and Palo Alto, Calif., before heading to Tamaulipas state along the border with Texas and operating as a trafficker under the umbrella of the Gulf Cartel in Mexico's northeast. He later returned to Michoacan, along the Pacific coast.
One of Mexico's most wanted narcotics kingpins, he carried a bounty on his head for about $2.4 million from the Mexican government.
La Familia, whose followers were once dubbed the "meth warriors" because of their deep involvement in manufacture and smuggling of methamphetamine, also traffics in cocaine, heroin and marijuana, U.S. drug officials say.
"This criminal group, which began operating under the name 'The Business,' has trampled on the people of Michoacan state since 2000, not only through drug trafficking and production but also extortion, turf tax, kidnapping and homicide," Poire said.
La Familia is know to have cells in most major California cities and in Seattle, St. Paul, Minn., Chicago, Boston, Raleigh, N.C., Atlanta and in other cities in the south and southeastern U.S.
In early November, law enforcement officials arrested 45 people linked to La Familia in the Atlanta area, charging them with running drugs to Alabama, Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Indiana and Washington.
On Nov. 26, La Familia hung banners from bridges in Michoacan state offering a one-month cease-fire and saying it might be willing to negotiate with the government.
President Felipe Calderon's government rejected the offer the next day.
A mid-level La Familia gangster, Sergio Moreno, suggested after his capture by police that another cartel leader, Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, was losing his grip on reality and the La Familia was on the skids.
"The organization ... is in decline, it's very badly structured," Moreno said in a video released by federal police after his Nov. 15 capture.
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