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Four dead bodies found near Cancun resort linked to the ‘Panther’ drug lord

Click to play video: '4 people found dead at Cancun beachside hotel in Mexico'
4 people found dead at Cancun beachside hotel in Mexico
WATCH: Mexican authorities in Cancun said they found the bodies of four dead people in the city’s hotel zone near the beach on Monday – Apr 4, 2023

UPDATE: Mexican authorities are offering a 1 million peso ($75,000) reward for anyone who knows the whereabouts of Hector Elias Flores Aceves, a cartel leader who prosecutors believe is linked to the killing of four people near a Cancun beach resort on Monday.

Flores Aceves goes by many aliases, including the Panther, or “Pantera,” and the King, or “Rey.”

The state of Quintana Roo, where Cancun is located, already had a standing reward out for information leading to Flores Aceves’ arrest, after investigators linked him to a series of bar attacks in Cancun in 2022. Two people died and eight people were injured in the May 6 shootings, Mexican media reported.

Flores Aceves is thought to be a high-ranking member of the Sinaloa cartel, which was famously founded by drug lord “El Chapo.”

The latest information released by the Attorney General of Quintana Roo did not reveal the motive behind the four latest killings in Cancun’s hotel zone.

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ORIGINAL: Mexican authorities in Cancun said they found the bodies of four dead people in the city’s hotel zone near the beach on Monday. The incident marks the latest outbreak of violence in the famous resort town as tourists flock south for Easter holidays.

The Attorney General of Quintana Roo, the Mexican state where Cancun is located, said police initially found three bodies on Monday in a lot near a resort along Kukulkan Boulevard. Authorities later found another body in the undergrowth of the same lot, bringing the victim total up to four.

Kukulkan Boulevard is a main road in Cancun’s hotel zone, or “zona hotelera,” a 23-kilometre-long, man-made island that hugs the coast of Cancun. Many of the city’s most luxurious and exclusive resorts are found in this area, which mainly caters to international visitors.

All of the deceased people were identified as Mexican in a Tuesday report, though it was not immediately clear if they were locals or tourists.

The attorney general’s office confirmed that it has two suspects in custody who are believed to be linked to the four bodies. Prosecutors said the investigation is still ongoing and did not release a cause of death.

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“Authorities are working to shed light on the events and provide the whereabouts of other possible participants in this crime,” prosecutors wrote.

The suspects were allegedly involved in dealing and selling narcotics, according to José Pablo Mathey Cruz, the Secretary of Public Security of Benito Juárez, the municipality that includes Cancun. He added at that footage from nearby security cameras and collaboration with local authorities helped lead to their arrest, CNN reported.

A tourist who was in the area at the time told CNN that he heard shots around 10:00 local time.

“We heard the shots and they hid all of us in an office and they kept us there until the incident was over. Everyone kept us there until they secured the area, and right now there are police, the Navy, everyone, everyone in the beach area and it’s very uncomfortable for us,” he said.

The state of Quintana Roo is generally considered quite safe, but there has been an uptick in gang violence in the area that prompted security forces to step up patrols in 2021.

Last week, a U.S. man was approached by several suspects while vacationing in Puerto Morelos, also in Quintana Roo state, and was shot in the leg. The wounded man was taken to a hospital in Cancun for treatment, and his injury was judged to be not life-threatening.

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The U.S. State Department issued a travel alert earlier this month warning travellers to “exercise increased caution,” especially after dark, at Mexico’s Caribbean beach resorts like Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, due to instances of crime and kidnapping.

The Government of Canada does not have a standing alert for the Quintana Roo region but warns all travellers to Mexico should “exercise a high degree of caution.”

“There are high rates of violent crime, such as homicides, kidnappings, carjacking and assaults, including in popular tourist destinations such as the Mayan Riviera (Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos and Tulum), and Acapulco,” the advisory states.

“Criminal groups and drug cartels are present in tourist areas. Inter-gang and cartel fighting has taken place in restaurants, hotels and nightclubs frequented by tourists.”

There have been a series of brazen acts of violence along the Caribbean coast, the crown jewel of Mexico’s tourism industry.

In 2022, two Canadians were killed in Playa del Carmen, apparently because of debts between international drug and weapons trafficking gangs.

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In 2021, farther south in the laid-back destination of Tulum, two tourists — one a California travel blogger born in India and the other German — were killed when they apparently were caught in the crossfire of a gunfight between rival drug dealers.

— With files from The Associated Press

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