MEXICO CITY — Four men were killed and five people seriously injured early Thursday at a bar outside the northern city of Monterrey when assailants burst in and opened fire on patrons, officials with the state government of Nuevo Leon said.
The shooting in the Monterrey suburb of Santa Catarina comes a little more than three days after gunmen killed 10 people, including a young girl, at a party celebrating the victory of a baseball team near the border city of Ciudad Juarez, in the state of Chihuahua.
The killings are sure to unnerve security officials in the two northern states, as well as their federal counterparts in Mexico City. Earlier this month, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto cited Chihuahua and Nuevo Leon as success stories in his government’s effort to restore peace in the nation, noting that homicides had declined in those states by 37.2% and 46.5%, respectively, since he took office in December.
Peña Nieto says homicides nationwide decreased 13.7% between December and July compared with the same period a year earlier. But some independent observers have said they distrust the government’s figures. [Link in Spanish]
Witnesses said the shooting Thursday was carried out by three people who appeared to be no older than 18, according to Jesus Ignacio Valencia, a spokesman for the Nuevo Leon prosecutor’s office.
Valencia said the trio showed up in a taxi at a place called the Bar Chatos Drink, hurling insults and eventually shooting the place up before fleeing in the same car. The Monterrey newspaper El Norte reported that 40 people were in the bar at the time, taking advantage of a midweek drink special. [Link in Spanish]
Investigators Thursday had “no hypothesis” for the motive of the shooting, Valencia said, though he said it fit a pattern in which organized criminals retaliate against business owners for failing to pay extortion money.
According to state police, one of the slain young men was 17. Police identified four of the five injured victims as men between the ages of 19 and 29. They provided no details about the fifth person.
Metropolitan Monterrey has long been considered an important economic engine for Mexico and was for years considered relatively peaceful. But the city erupted in violence in 2010, after the Zetas, a notoriously violent paramilitary drug gang, split acrimoniously from the Gulf drug cartel, its former employers, and challenged it for dominance in the city.
By some important measures, the situation has calmed recently. State figures show homicide rates have been on the decline both statewide and at the municipal level since 2011.
Mexican security expert Jorge Chabat said the declines can be attributed to the creation of a new state police force, the Fuerza Civil, made up of relatively well-vetted and well-paid officers, and to the weakening of the two cartels.
Chabat said that Zetas aggression hobbled the Gulf cartel, while government arrests and slayings of top Zetas leaders have caused disarray within that group.
Separately Thursday, Mexican news sources reported that three human heads were found in the southwestern state of Michoacan, in an area where drug cartel members are in conflict with self-appointed citizen militias. [Link in Spanish]
Along with the heads was a message threatening any residents who support the militias.