|Nazario Moreno is thought to have been killed in two days of shootouts the western state of Michoacan [EPA]
The eccentric leader of the brutal La Familia drug cartel was killed in a shootout during two days of fighting between federal police and armed men that terrified civilians across a western Mexican state, according to authorities.
The office of Felipe Calderon, the Mexican president, confirmed Moreno's death in a statement on Friday.
The death of Nazario Moreno Gonzalez is a major blow to a drug cartel that rose to national prominence four years ago by rolling severed heads into a nightclub and declaring that its mission was to protect the state of Michoacan from rival gangs and petty criminals.
Police believe that the 40-year-old Moreno, also known as "The Craziest One," was killed in a clash on Thursday between members of the cartel and federal police, Alejandro Poire, the government spokesman for security issues, said.
"Diverse pieces of information obtained during the raid all indicate that Nazario Moreno Gonzalez was killed yesterday," he said.
Cartel members have fled the area with their casualties, and Moreno's body has not been recovered, Poire said. Police recovered the bodies of three other suspected La Familia members and detained three more.
Five officers and three civilians, including an eight-month-old baby and a teenage girl, were also killed in the shootouts. The violence began on Wednesday night, when La Familia gunmen attacked federal officers in Moreno's home city of Apatzingan.
The cartel members torched vehicles across Michoacan and used them as barricades, blockading all entrances into its capital of Morelia to prevent federal police from sending reinforcements.
Moreno was considered the ideological leader of La Familia, setting a code of conduct for its members that prohibits using hard drugs or dealing them within Mexican territory. He is believed to have written a religiously tinted book of values for the cartel, sometimes known as "The Sayings of the Craziest One".
He was among the country's 24 most-wanted drug cartel leaders and had a $2.4 million bounty on his head.
Calderon's government has deployed tens of thousands of troops to the state of Michoacan in recent years, and the crackdown has intensified in 2010.
Moreno was the fourth senior leader of a drug gang killed in shootouts with security forces since December 2009 and three other alleged cartel leaders have been arrested.
'Business is business'
But Adalberto Santana, a drug trade expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, said Moreno was likely to be quickly replaced.
"Business is business and Moreno's death won't stop drug smuggling or drug violence. Only policies that stop US demand and help alleviate Mexico's poverty will do that," he said.
"This is a public relations victory for Calderon, little more."
La Familia has become one of the biggest methamphetamine traffickers to the United States.
In February, the US government added Moreno and six other reputed La Familia leaders to its "Kingpin Act" list, a move that prohibits USn citizens and firms from having any business dealings with them and freezes any US assets they may have.
On Tuesday, Mexican authorities captured Moreno's co-leader, Jose Antonio Arcos, another of Mexico's most wanted drug lords. Arcos is also wanted in the US.
At least 28,000 people have been killed in drug-gang violence in Mexico since 2006.