PLAYA DEL CARMEN, Mexico — Authorities said Tuesday they are investigating whether extortion, street-level drug sales or a murder plot was the motive behind a shooting at an electronic music festival in this Caribbean resort town that left three foreigners and two Mexicans dead.
The drug hypothesis was strengthened after a banner briefly appeared along a roadside, signed by the “Old School Zetas,” part of the fragmented Zetas cartel, suggesting the attack was carried out as part of a battle against rival gangs.
The attorney general of Quintana Roo state said investigators were looking into whether the banner referred to the BPM music festival or one of its organizers.
Also Tuesday, gunmen shot at the building that houses the state prosecutors’ office in the resort of Cancun. A witness said the attackers also tossed two explosive devices at a perimeter wall. A reporter at the scene saw police remove a body from a guard post near the building after the attack.
Cancun is just north of Playa del Carmen, this beach town where a gunman opened fire before dawn Monday at a closing party for the BPM electronic music festival. Five people were killed and 15 suffered injuries.
State Attorney General Miguel Angel Pech said the gunman fired directly at one of the Mexican victims at the Blue Parrot nightclub where the party was being held. A confused shootout ensued in which guards — it is not clear whether festival security personnel or the Mexican’s bodyguards — returned fire.
One guard was hit by gunfire, and as he fell, his pistol went off, wounding several concert-goers, Pech said. It was unclear why the Mexican man might have been a target. Pech said his family told prosecutors that he had “an important relative” in the state government of Veracruz, a state plagued by corruption and violence.
The attacker fled, but Pech told the Televisa TV network that a taxi driver who helped the man escape has been linked to previous extortion attempts. Some businesses in Mexico are forced to pay protection money under threat of being attacked.
“Either they didn’t reach an agreement over protection payments, directly extortion, or it may be that somebody did not allow them to sell drugs inside” the nightclub, Pech said.
“Perhaps the strongest hypothesis is that this person had gone there to demand they comply with protection payments,” he added at a news conference.
Playa del Carmen residents said the shooting came amid a growing and increasingly open drug scene in the resort town, which has long been spared the violence of Mexico’s cartel wars.
Concerns that violence may be creeping into the once-tranquil beachside town were voiced as people attended a Monday evening vigil in front of the Blue Parrot nightclub.
“This is a sign of what has been happening,” said Lenin Amaro, a local business owner and politician.
“It has reached us,” Amaro said of the country’s drug violence. “We were living in what you could call a bubble.”
Federal authorities say the Zeta cartel has been in the state for years, especially in Cancun itself, where the Zetas were blamed for the firebombing of a bar in which eight people died in 2010.
And drug cartel influence in the state as a whole goes back at least to the 1990s under Gov. Mario Villanueva, who was later convicted in the U.S. of involvement in large-scale drug smuggling.
On Monday, officials released a list of the dead, who included one Canadian, one American, two Mexicans and one Italian. Three were identified as part of the festival’s security team. Fifteen people suffered injuries, including at least two Canadians and two Americans.