TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) – Honduran police said yesterday street gangs connected to violent Mexican drug cartels are responsible for the massacre of 17 people in a shoe shop in the industrial city of San Pedro Sula.
Two gunmen opened fire on the shoe store on Tuesday as part of an escalating dispute over drug territory between the rival Mara Salvatrucha and Mara 18 gangs, police said.
“This massacre is linked to the drugs the gangs receive as payment from the Mexican and Colombian cartels for helping to move drugs through the country,” San Pedro Sula’s police chief, Hector Mejia told Reuters.
The gangs, founded by Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles in the 1980s, have emerged as potent criminal forces in Central America and are suspected of forging ties with drug cartels who use the region as a smuggling route.
Battling street gangs and competing cartels have led to a sharp escalation of violent crime in Honduras in recent years.
San Pedro Sula, about 100 miles (165 km) north of Tegucigalpa and a major hub for the country’s textile industry, is part of a region where drug gangs are known to refine cocaine before it heads to markets in the United States.