Deadly attack by phony mariachis in Mexico City is reportedly linked to gang turf war

View of the Plaza Garibaldi square in downtown Mexico City on Sept. 15, 2018, a day after gunmen dressed as mariachi musicians killed five people and wounded eight others. (Alfredo Estrella / AFP/Getty Images)

The killers arrived on motorcycles to an iconic downtown spot: Plaza Garibaldi, hub of Mexico City’s thriving mariachi music scene, popular with tourists and locals alike.

They were outfitted in the embroidered jackets and slacks of mariachi artists, but they didn’t come to play music.

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All were apparently professional hitmen, or sicarios, disguised as mariachi musicians.

Their armed assault late Friday outside a fast-food restaurant in bustling Plaza Garibaldi left five dead, including two women, and eight injured — and stunned a capital in the midst of Mexican independence celebrations.

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A video clip of the plaza at the time of the attack showed people scurrying from the normally festive scene as multiple shots rang out, silencing the serenades of mariachi music.

On Sunday, media reports indicated that the slayings were linked to a turf war between two rival gangs.

Mounting the assault, according to published accounts, were assassins from the Union of Tepito gang, named after the notorious nearby district of Tepito, hub of drug trafficking, extortion rackets and other illicit activity.

The reported targets were members of an upstart rival mob known as the Anti-Union Force, which has been battling the more established syndicate for territory in the city center.

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Citing “national security” sources, Milenio newspaper said that the attack by the Union of Tepito operatives was aimed at the reputed leader of the rival gang.

Police block access to a crime scene after a shooting in Plaza Garibaldi in Mexico City on Sept. 14, 2018. (Associated Press)

It was not clear if the purported gang capo or any of his associates were among the casualties. Not all of the victims had been been identified as of Sunday.

Two of those killed, reported the newspaper Reforma, were sisters who ran a fast-food shop in the plaza. The shooting took place in the vicinity of the eatery.

Authorities counted more than 50 spent shells at the scene of the attack in the heart of the capital.

The five killers, authorities said, sped away as they arrived, on motorcycles — a well-organized escape that was captured in part on closed-circuit camera footage circulating in the media.

The audacious assault came a night before throngs gathered Saturday in the capital’s central square, or zocalo — a little more than a mile from Plaza Garibaldi — to hear the traditional shout of “Viva Mexico!” from the president, the culmination of independence celebrations.

The wave of organized-crime violence that has battered many parts of Mexico has been less pronounced in Mexico City than in some other regions. But the capital has recently seen an increase in homicides, reflecting an ongoing nationwide increase in killings.

In the aftermath of the Plaza Garibaldi slayings, President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador reiterated his pledge to target escalating crime with a new “security plan” to be unveiled next month.

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Lopez Obrador, who takes office Dec. 1, was elected in July in a landslide vote amid widespread public dissatisfaction with Mexico’s ruling party about rising crime, rampant corruption and a sluggish economy.

After the shooting, yellow police tape sealed off the scene of the attack, outside a fast-food shop on the ground floor of a two-story building. Some passersby left candles to commemorate the victims.

The site is just a few yards from the bronze statue of the late Javier Solis, a popular Mexican singer who is depicted holding a broad-brimmed Mexican sombrero.

McDonnell is a Times staff writer and Sanchez is a special correspondent in the Times’ Mexico City bureau.

5 p.m.: This article was updated with reported gang ties involving the shootings.

This article was originally published Sept. 15, at 9:15 p.m.

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