BOGOTA (Reuters) - The leader of one of Colombia's most powerful criminal groups was gunned down by his own bodyguards Monday in the drug-plagued Antioquia province, police said.
New criminal gangs -- whose composition and numbers are hotly debated in Colombia -- are seen as a major new security threat in the Andean nation which has battled drug-linked guerrillas and gangs for decades.
Police said Angel de Jesus Pacheco, the leader of the Rastrojos criminal gang, was shot dead by his bodyguards who then reported the killing to authorities.
Los Rastrojos are one of the most powerful of the six main criminal gangs in Colombia, which have a total of more than 4,000 members.
The Colombian think-tank Indepaz put the total number of direct gang members for 15 bands at around 7,000 and said they operated in all 32 of Colombia's provinces last year.
While bloodshed from Colombia's long guerrilla and drug wars has dropped since a U.S.-backed offensive at the beginning of the century, bombings, murders and combat continue, mainly in Colombia's frontier areas and traditional conflict zones.
Criminal gangs are seeking to expand their influence in an upcoming local vote in October and could reverse a decade-long trend of falling electoral violence, the International Crisis Group said.
(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Jack Kimball)