Federal forces deployed in the embattled western state of Michoacan arrested a man identified by media outlets as a key figure in the drug cartel that has been terrorizing the region, the head of Mexico's National Public Safety System said.

Hector Chavez Quiroz, 40, is "an important part of a criminal structure," Monte Alejandro Rubido told a press conference in Morelia, the state capital.

Though the official did not name the criminal organization, media accounts described Chavez Quiroz as the lieutenant of Enrique Plancarte, one of the seven top bosses of the Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar) outfit.

Chavez Quiroz "was responsible for supervising the establishment of clandestine laboratories for the creation of synthetic drugs and coordinated the shipment of the same to the United States," Rubido said.

The Templarios are thought to control a big chunk of the trade in U.S.-bound crystal meth.

The suspect was detained along with three other men in the town of Uruapan.

The four were in possession of a Russian-made RPG anti-tank weapon, seven rifles, two handguns, bullets, eight kilos of synthetic drugs and communications gear, Rubido said.

Chavez Quiroz and his associates were sent to Mexico City for questioning by the organized-crime unit of the federal Attorney General's Office.

The federal offensive in Michoacan began Jan. 13 with an attempt to forcibly disarm militias that arose to defend communities from the Templarios, but after four people died in a confrontation with soldiers, the Mexican government changed tack in favor of cooperation with the vigilantes.

Mistrust persists, however, and the militias, who get financial backing from business owners tired of paying protection money to the Templarios, say they will hand over their weapons and stand down only after the entire cartel leadership is behind bars. EFE