GUANAJUATO, Mexico (AFP) – Armed assailants opened fire in a nightclub in central Mexico in the early hours of Saturday, 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.
Witnesses told authorities that the assailants were masked.
The victims have not yet been identified.
The attack occurred just hours after 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 USD3 billion, according to government statistics.
But 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.