Angry people in the Mexican town of Totolapan kidnapped the mother of a gang leader to demand the release of their loved ones.
The government of Guerrero state said on Tuesday that it was sending about 220 soldiers and police to try to defuse the situation in Totolapan.
The town has been controlled for years by a drug gang boss whose real name is Raybel Jacobo de Almonte, but who is better known as “El Tequilero”, meaning “The Tequila Drinker”.
In de Alamonte’s only known public appearance, he was captured on video drinking with the town’s mayor-elect.
In recent months, his gang – also known as the Tequileros – has been fighting battles with other gangs in the area.
Last week, the Tequileros allegedly kidnapped several inhabitants of Totolapan who they wanted to extort or whom they suspected of supporting a rival.
In response, a few dozen men appeared this week in the streets of Totolapan waving shotguns and hunting rifles. In a video, the men carry banners calling for action against El Tequilero and identify themselves as a “self-defense” force, as vigilantes are known in the region.
“We urgently demand the release of the kidnap victims,” a masked man says in a statement read on the video. “We are a legitimate self-defense force of the people.”
Among the Tequileros’ kidnap victims was a local construction engineer, Isauro de Paz Duque, who was snatched on Sunday by men who had threatened to kill him.
On Monday, a woman who identified herself as De Paz Duque’s wife said on a video that townspeople had El Tequilero’s mother and would exchange the woman for her husband.
“We have your mother here, Mr. Tequilero,” she said. “I propose an exchange: I’ll give you your mother if you give me my husband, but I want him safe and sound.”
The state government said in a statement that a negotiating team had been sent to establish contact with the family of the missing engineer and the vigilantes and to set up a search team.
“The goal of the team is to ensure that no injury is done to the missing person, nor to the mother of the head of the Tequileros gang, who has apparently been taken by the self-defense forces,” the statement said.
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