About 40,000 people have been killed in Mexico since the government launched its war on drug cartels in 2006 [Reuters]

Police have arrested an alleged leader of the Knights Templar drug cartel in the southeastern Mexican state of Michoacan.

Security forces said Bulmaro Salinas Munoz, alias "El Men", was arrested in Morelia on Sunday, where he was believed to have been the cartel's local chief since August 2010.

The 33-year-old is accused of extortion, kidnapping and involvement in the murder of 21 people.

Mexican officials said Salinas was imprisoned in the United States in 2004 on drug and weapons possession charges.

He allegedly began his career in another drug cartel La Familia Michoacana.

Officials say he later broke off to join the newly formed cartel, the Knights Templar, which models itself after the 12th- and 13th-century crusaders.

Michoacan has witnessed heavy bouts of fighting between the two factions.

The Knights Templar is suspected of killing 23 people in mid-June, leaving bodies across Michoacan with threatening notes for rivals.

Mexican president Felipe Calderon, who hails from Michoacan, launched his army-led war on drug cartels in late 2006 on taking office, but now faces growing public alarm over the estimated 40,000 people killed in the conflict since then.

Last December, La Familia's top boss, Nazario Moreno, known as "The Craziest One," was killed in a dramatic series of army raids.

Source: Agencies