Firefight erupts as hundreds of Mexican vigilantes fight to liberate their town from drug cartel (VIDEO + 13 PHOTOS)

Mexican vigilantes, armed and willing to fight, seized a town in Michoacan after a bloody firefight with drug cartel Sunday, gaining ground in the violent struggle to reclaim their territories.

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Members of the self-defense group ride in trucks, using sandbags as protection.

Hundreds of “self-defense groups” donned their battle gear and boarded pickup trucks, riding off towards Nueva Italia. As they neared the Knights Templar-controlled city, gunfire erupted. In the ensuing battle, some of the self-defense unit were wounded, but after a lengthy confrontation the militia force successfully routed the cartel, Yahoo News reports.

The civilian attack on the Templar comes nearly two years after towns began forming vigilante forces in response to the cartel’s rampant murders and kidnappings. Local police failed to successfully intervene, and ordinary citizens started taking matters into their own hands.

While in the town’s main square, the vigilantes were surrounded by hundreds of men armed with AK-47s and wearing bulletproof vests. Two of the self-defense group were injured.

In formation- Self-Defense Council fighters enter the man plaza of the town of Nueva Italia on Sunday

“In formation: Self-Defense Council fighters enter the man plaza of the town of Nueva Italia on Sunday.”

“They shot at us from two locations and the clash lasted around an hour and half,” said Jaime Ortiz, a 47-year-old farmer and vigilante leader.

Michoacan’s militia movement is growing and the self-defense groups have been engaging in attacks against the Templars more frequently in recent weeks. Though the militia is technically unsanctioned, it appears government forces are working in concert with them to some extent, according to the Daily Mail.

men belonging to the self-defense council of michoacan engage in a firefight while trying to flush out alleged members of the Knigts Templar drug cartel from Nueva Italia on Sunday January 12, 2014

“Men belonging to the Self-Defense Council of Michoacan engage in a firefight while trying to flush out alleged members of the Knights Templar drug cartel from Nueva Italia on Sunday January 12.” – Daily Mail

A bus burns at the entrance of Paracuaro, Mexico as residents of villages near Paracuaro set at least six cars and trucks on fire to protest the arrival of more than 100 vigilantes to their town of michoacan

Though many support the militia, some do not. “A bus burns at the entrance of Paracuaro, Mexico as residents of villages near Paracuaro set at least six cars and trucks on fire to protest the arrival of more than 100 vigilantes to their town of Michoacan.” – Daily Mail

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“The window of a bank is riddled with bullet holes in the town of Apatzingan in Michoacan state, Mexico on Saturday. Residents are destroying property to protest the arrival of vigilantes, or members of ‘self-defense’ groups, in their communities.” – Daily Mail

Members of a self-defense group arrive on an armed vehicle to the village of Las Yeguas in Michoacan state

“Members of a self-defense group arrive on an armed vehicle to the village of Las Yeguas in Michoacan state.” – Daily Mail

Covered- A self-defense group take their stations in a fleet of trucks in the village of Las Yeguas, Mihoacan state, Mexico on Saturday

“A self-defense group take their stations in a fleet of trucks in the village of Las Yeguas, Mihoacan state, Mexico on Saturday.” – Daily Mail

Members of the citizens' Self-Protection Police patrol on the check point of Paracuaro community entrance in Michoacan State, Mexico, on January 11, 2014

“Members of the citizens’ Self-Protection Police patrol on the check point of Paracuaro community entrance in Michoacan State, Mexico, on January 11, 2014.” – Daily Mail

Break- In the midst of the weekend fight, a Self-Defense Council member smokes a cigarette in the town of Nueva Italia

“Break: In the midst of the weekend fight, a Self-Defense Council member smokes a cigarette in the town of Nueva Italia.” – Daily Mail

Under cover- Self-Defense Council fighters take cover near a carnival ride in the town of Nueva Italia on Sunday

“Under cover: Self-Defense Council fighters take cover near a carnival ride in the town of Nueva Italia on Sunday.” – Daily Mail

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A man belonging to the Self-Defense Council of Michacan, (CAM), engages in a firefight while trying to flush out alleged members of the Knights Templar drug cartel from the town of Nueva Italia, Mexico, Sunday Jan. 12, 2014. … Mexican military troops are staying outside the town and there are no federal police in sight.” – Yahoo

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“… Armed members of a local self-defense group wearing white T-shirts whit the slogan “For a Free Aquila” stand at a street corner in the town of Aquila, Mexico.” – Yahoo

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“Members of the community police, acting in this case as vigilantes, hold bullets on a highway near the village of Paracuaro in Michoacan state, January 5, 2014.” – Yahoo