The Knights Templar (Caballeros Templarios) emerged in March 2011 as a splinter group of the once-mighty Familia Michoacana. Like their predecessors, the Knights Templar cast themselves as a "self-defense" movement engaged in a struggle with Mexico's larger criminal cartels on behalf of the Michoacan population, and frequently employ religious imagery in their public communiques. The arrest or killing of several top leaders in 2014 and 2015 has put the criminal organization's future in doubt.
The Juarez Cartel is responsible for smuggling tons of narcotics from Mexico into the U.S. throughout its long and turbulent history, and the group's intense rivalry with the Sinaloa Cartel helped turn Juarez into one of the most violent places in the world.
The Tijuana Cartel, also known as the Arellano Felix Organization, is based in one of the most strategically important Mexico border cities for trafficking drugs into the United States. Due to infighting, arrests and the deaths of many top leaders, the organization is a shell of what it was in the 1990s and early 2000s, when it was considered one of Mexico's most potent and violent criminal groups. Still the cartel continues to export narcotics and may be expanding its presence internationally.
The Gulf Cartel is one of the oldest and most powerful of Mexico’s criminal groups but has lost territory and influence in recent years to its rivals, including its former enforcer wing, the Zetas. In the cartel's heyday, its boss, Osiel Cardenas Guillen, was considered the country’s most powerful underworld leader, and the Zetas the most feared gang.
The Sinaloa Cartel, often described as the largest and most powerful drug trafficking organization in the Western Hemisphere, is an alliance of some of Mexico's top capos. The coalition's members operate in concert to protect themselves, relying on connections at the highest levels and corrupting portions of the federal police and military to maintain the upper hand against rivals.
At the height of its power, the Familia Michoacana’s brutal tactics, strong base of operations and pseudo-religious ideology made it a formidable operation and a point of fascination for outsiders. However, the group has suffered a series of heavy blows, most notably that of leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alias "El Chayo," who was falsely reported killed in 2010 and was later confirmed dead in a shootout in March 2014. The Familia is now thought to have been largely supplanted by a splinter group known as the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar), which has also been seriously weakened in recent years.