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Mexico says it caught replacement leader of drug gang

October 8, 2021 GMT

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Prosecutors said Friday they have caught the replacement leader of a drug gang involved in a bloody turf battle in central Mexico.

Prosecutors in the north-central state of Guanajuato identified the suspect only by his nickname, “The Panther,” to respect the presumption of innocence.

They said he had had esthetic surgery to his face and hairline to change his appearance and avoid capture. He had a rifle with him when he was detained by police, and is suspected of several crimes, including an attack on detectives earlier this year.

The suspect was allegedly appointed leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima gang after the group’s founder — José Antonio Yépez Ortiz, known as “El Marro,” or “Sledgehammer”— was arrested in 2020.

The Santa Rosa de Lima gang is fighting off incursions by the Jalisco cartel in Guanajuato, the state with the highest number of homicides in Mexico. The Sinaloa cartel has sent killers, guns and money to prop up Santa Rosa and other local gangs, to prevent their rival, Jalisco, from taking over.

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Guanajuato’s home-grown Santa Rosa de Lima gang achieved so much power in the last decade that they nearly controlled a federal oil refinery in the state, and brazenly stole fuel in and around the plant.

The problem got so bad that federal troops had to be called in to take over and protect the plant.

The gang also traffics methamphetamines and is engaged in widespread kidnapping and extortion.