PUEBLA, Mexico – Twelve people have been killed in the past 24 hours in Mexico’s central Puebla state in clashes between gangs specializing in stealing fuel, authorities said on Tuesday.
The state attorney general’s office said in a statement that it is “investigating the settling of scores among gangs devoted to stealing fuel.”
In the municipality of Tlaltenango, five people lost their lives in a shootout between two groups identified as “huachicoleros,” the local name for the fuel thieves.
Witnesses said that a group of men were drinking alcoholic beverages on the street when gunmen in a pickup truck opened fire on them. Four people were killed at the scene and a fifth died in a nearby hospital.
In addition, authorities seized a property belonging to Alfredo “N,” known as “El Cuino” or “El Kino,” and found “valves, connections, and pumps used to steal fuel,” as well as three vehicles that had been reported stolen,” the AG’s office said.
In another incident, in a hospital in Puebla, the state capital, four people died after being shot by unknown gunmen.
A few hours later, in the community of Chachapa the lifeless body of Fernando “N” was found after he was shot to death in a carjacking.
Finally, in the town of Amozoc de Mota, two people were shot to death as they were riding in a pickup truck.
Mexican authorities are investigating whether or not the three latest events were perpetrated by the same gunmen.
According to the authorities, fighting fuel theft “has caused a scarcity” in fuel and has led to armed confrontations among gangs of fuel thieves.
The huachicoleros have targeted two pipelines operated by state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), which has suffered both the loss of fuel and extensive damage to the infrastructure.
Pemex said in a report that 755,869 liters (199,690 gallons) of various fuels were stolen from company pipelines between 2011-2016.
Theft of fuel from pipelines for sale on the black market costs Mexico some $5 billion a year, according to Pemex.