Suspected drug hitmen men shot dead 15 people at a car wash in western Mexico on Wednesday, the fourth multiple shooting in just a few days, putting new pressure on President Felipe Calderon.
The gunmen opened fire on customers and workers at the car wash on the outskirts of the coastal city of Tepic in Nayarit state, provoking panic as the victims, all workers at the car wash, collapsed to the ground.
"The workers were all men, they were washing cars when the gunmen, probably members of organized crime, drove up in SUVs and started opening fire," said a spokeswoman who declined to be identified. "We have reports of between 13 and 15 dead, including a bystander."
The shooting is the fourth since Friday, when gunmen shot and killed 14 people, including a 14-year-old girl, at a party in Ciudad Juarez across from El Paso, Texas. On Sunday, gunmen in Tijuana killed 14 people in a shooting at a rehabilitation center in the city across from San Diego, Calif.
On Tuesday, three people were killed at a car wash in Guadalajara.
It was not immediately clear why the hitmen attacked the car wash workers, the state prosecutor's office said. It denied media reports that the victims were recovering drug addicts.
Young, impoverished men who wash cars often work as street spies for drug gangs. Convicted drug lord Osiel Cardenas, now imprisoned in Texas, started out washing cars for local drug bosses in Nuevo Laredo and worked his way up the Gulf cartel.
Drug gangs La Familia, the Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel, led by Mexico's most-wanted man, Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, are fighting over western Mexico. But the recent rash of massacres suggest that local gangs linked to major cartels are fighting turf wars for control of criminal rackets rather than over smuggling routes into the United States.
Nayarit, a coastal state with expensive beach resorts catering to U.S. tourists, has remained a quiet corner of Mexico since Calderon launched his drug war in December 2006.
But the shootings underscores how killings have spread from the notoriously violent border region across the country.
The massacres have put renewed pressure on Calderon, who has vowed to beat back the cartels but is struggling to defend his strategy as the death toll from his drug war surges.
Almost 30,000 people have died in drug-related killings across Mexico over the past four years and more than 90 percent of the murders go unsolved, according to rights groups.
The recent rash of massacres suggest that local gangs linked to major drug cartels are fighting turf wars for control of criminal rackets, rather than over smuggling routes into the United States, drug trade specialists say.