While much is still unknown about a brutal attack on six Spanish tourists in Mexico, authorities say they are fairly certain about one thing: it had nothing to do with drugs or organized crime.
A group of armed and masked gunmen raped and attacked the tourists, who were staying in the Mexican resort of Acapulco, the latest chapter of violence that has tarnished the once-glamorous Pacific coast resort.
The attackers burst into a house the Spaniards had rented on the outskirts of Acapulco, in a low-key beachside area, and held 12 Spanish men and women and one Mexican woman at gunpoint before dawn on Monday.
"This is a regrettable situation, and of course it is going to damage Acapulco," said Acapulco Mayor Luis Walton. The once-glittering resort that attracted movie stars and celebrities in the 1950s and 60s has already been battered by years of drug gang killings and extortion, but except for a very few incidents, the violence largely had not touched tourists.
The attackers tied up the six men with phone cords and bathing suit straps and then raped the six Spanish women, said Walton at a press conference later Monday.
He said he believed, but wasn't sure, that the assailants in Monday's attack didn't belong to a drug gang. Mexico's Foreign Relations Department issued a statement saying it regretted the attack, and suggesting it was not drug-cartel related – meaning local authorities would probe the matter.
"From what the attorney general has told me, I don't think this was organized crime, but that will have to be investigated, we don't know," Walton said.
In Mexico, federal authorities investigate drug-related crimes. Security and drug analyst Jorge Chabat said that, after years of drug gang activity in Acapulco, the distinction may be merely semantic.
"At this point, the line between common and organized crime is very tenuous, there are a lot of these gangs that take advantage of the unsafe situation that currently exists, they know the government can't keep up," Chabat said. "Everything points to this being organized crime, because several gangs have operated there for years ... it's probably not the big cartels, but there are smaller groups that carry out crimes on a permanent basis."
The Spanish Embassy in Mexico City said the victims were receiving consular assistance.
The attackers gained access to the house because two of the Spaniards were in the yard and apparently were forced to open the door, Walton said. The house is on a more isolated stretch of beach east of the city.
The victims were "psychologically affected" by the attack and received treatment, the mayor said. The lone Mexican woman in the group was not raped.
Guerrero state Attorney General Martha Garzon Guzman said witness descriptions of the attackers were more difficult to obtain because they wore masks.
Spain's Foreign Ministry had already issued a travelers advisory on its website for Acapulco before the Monday attack, listing the resort as one of Mexico's "risk zone," though not the worst.
"In Acapulco, organized crime gangs have carried out violence, though up to now that has not affected tourists or the areas they visit," the advisory states. "At any rate, heightened caution is advised."
The attack came just three days after a pair of Mexican tourists returning from a beach east of Acapulco were shot at and slightly wounded by members of a masked rural self-defense squad that has set up roadblocks in areas north of Acapulco, to defend their communities against drug gang violence.
The vigilantes say the Mexican tourists failed to stop at their improvised roadblock.
Walton said the city was already contemplating ways to revive the city's image.
"We have to look at an advertising campaign to say that not everything in Acapulco is like that," Walton said. "This happens everywhere in the world, not just in Acapulco or in Mexico."
Based on a story by The Associated Press.