Why the Knights Templar Declared War on Zetas Leader

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A banner hung by Mexican criminal group the Knights Templar declares their intention to persecute Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño, alias “Z-40.” Could this signal that the Knights Templar are picking sides in an alleged Zetas turf war?

The Knights Templar banner, which Borderland Beat has featured in both English and Spanish, states the group has “declared war” on Z-40, describing him as “the maximum orchestrator of terrorism in our country.” It asks the public to provide the Knights Templar with intelligence on Z-40’s whereabouts, concluding, “we will take care of the rest.”

The banner states that the Knights Templar are acting “in conjunction with our brothers in the northern states of, Coahuila and Nuevo Leon,” suggesting that they are joining a wider battle against Z-40 and his supporters.

The banners were hung in seven towns in Michoacan state and at least one town in Jalisco state.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Knights Templar, a splinter group from the Familia Michoacana, has never been a friend to the Zetas. A banner distributed by the Knights Templar throughout Michaocan in 2011 offered a reward for those who could provide information on two men described as “traitors” for joining the Zetas.

The banners declaring war on Z-40 appeared just as the Knights Templar have been blamed for a series of violent attacks in one of Mexico’s most peaceful states, Guanajuato. These attacks include the burning of several gasoline stations in small towns across the state on August 17. On August 20, banners inciting violence against Z-40 also appeared in several Guanajuato towns. Michoacan state is the traditional strongbase of the Knights Templar, but given that they are currently battling remnants of the Familia Michoacana here (and the state security forces, with one recent shootout leaving six dead), as well as the Jalisco Cartel – New Generation in Jalisco state, the tranquil “plaza” of Guanuajuato is perhaps a comparatively easier place for the Knights Templar to make inroads. The fact that the Knights Templar declared war on Z-40 just as they appear to be expanding their presence in Guanuajuato, and fighting hard to keep their hold on Michoacan, could be the group’s attempt to present themselves as strong and willing enough to pick a fight with one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal groups.

It is also noteworthy that the Knights Templar’s banner stated they were joining their “brothers” in Coahuila state. According to one theory, the Zetas are splitting into rival factions, one loyal to Z-40, and the other loyal to the head of the Coahuila state, Ivan Velazquez, alias “El 50” or “El Taliban.” After Z-50 tried to take control of the plaza in San Luis Potosi state, Z-40 reportedly retaliated by killing and dumping 14 bodies in San Luis Potosi earlier this month. The victims may have been operatives loyal to Z-50, reports drug trafficking and security blog Notimex. In this context, the Knights Templar could be implying that they intend to collaborate with El Taliban in their battle against Z-40.

Declaring war against the Zetas’ most visible top leader also gives the Knights Templar an edge in their rhetorical battle against the Zetas. Similarly to the Familia Michoacana, the Knights Templar have always strived to present themselves as a “self-defense” group interested in sticking up for the rights of the community, in contrast to the Zetas, depicted as “terrorists.” In some ways, fighting Z-40 is an image-booster for the Knights Templar. It remains to be seen whether the group intends to actually support the campaign of the other rival Zetas faction led by El Taliban.

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