Armed assailants in the early hours of Saturday opened fire in a nightclub in central Mexico, leaving at least 15 people dead and three others wounded, prosecutors said.
The incident took place in the city of Salamanca in Guanajuato state, where authorities have launched an operation against criminal gangs involved in fuel theft.
The armed men fled the La Playa club — located in a residential and commercial area of the city — in an escape car, prosecutors said, adding that an investigation had been opened.
The victims have not yet been identified.
The attack occurred just hours after Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador made a working visit to Guanajuato, where he spoke on Friday about his strategy for putting a stop to fuel theft.
On Saturday, Lopez Obrador said he regretted the “loss of innocent lives.”
“We are fighting to bring peace to the country,” he told reporters.
Salamanca is home to about 140,000 people. The main pipeline of state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) in Guanajuato state runs through the city.
Fuel theft is a massive black market industry in Mexico that has thrived with the help of corrupt officials and company insiders.
So-called huachicol — as the stolen fuel is known — costs about half of market price. Every year, fuel theft costs Pemex about SU$3 billion, government statistics showed.
However, the strategy — which included the closing of pipelines from which most of the country’s fuel is transported — has caused a backlash, especially when it led to severe gasoline shortages.
The pipelines have since been reopened and security stepped up.
The market for stolen fuel has also unleashed a turf war between rival gangs, similar to that seen between drug cartels.
Salamanca is less than 100km from Santa Rosa de Lima, where authorities have carried out a days-long operation against Juan Antonio Yepez, the alleged leader of a fuel-stealing cartel.
In late January, a fake bomb was found in a car parked close to the Salamanca refinery.
Nearby, a sign was posted with a threatening message for Lopez Obrador and a demand that security forces be withdrawn from the state. The sign was believed to be Yepez’s handiwork.
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