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Wary of losing tourists, Mexico says mass abduction in Puerto Vallarta was likely a gang-on-gang crime

Wary of losing tourists, Mexico says mass abduction in Puerto Vallarta was likely a gang-on-gang crime
The entrance of La Leche restaurant in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, remains closed after armed men abducted people who were dining there. (Associated Press)

The kidnapping early Monday of as many as a dozen men from a restaurant in the Pacific resort city of Puerto Vallarta was likely a case of gang-on-gang crime and didn't target tourists or foreigners, Mexican authorities say.

Eduardo Almaguer, chief prosecutor of Jalisco state, also refuted rumors in the Mexican press suggesting that among those kidnapped were sons of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the imprisoned cartel leader.

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"We haven't confirmed until now that there were relatives of that person," the prosecutor said, referring to Guzman, whom U.S. authorities are seeking to extradite to the United States on trafficking and other charges.

The kidnapping appeared to involve rival crime gangs, officials said.

All of those abducted were Mexican citizens linked to an unspecified "criminal group," Almaguer said at a news conference in the Pacific coast city.

"We want to stress that there is a very clear presumption that this had to do with a criminal group, it didn't involve tourists or citizens who were involved in legitimate activities," Almaguer said.

The fate of those abducted remained publicly unknown.

Authorities knew which criminal organizations were involved, said the prosecutor, who declined to name the groups.

Several drug trafficking organizations — including Guzman's powerful Sinaloa cartel — have been vying for control of Jalisco state, where Puerto Vallarta is situated. But drug-related violence has generally not spread to Puerto Vallarta or nearby tourist spots.

Battles between competing drug trafficking gangs in Mexico often involve kidnappings and executions of members of rival groups.

The white-sand beaches in and around Puerto Vallarta have long been a popular destination for tourists. A number of U.S. airlines fly directly to the city's international airport, daily disgorging beach-bound visitors in shorts and flip-flops.

International resorts and condominium complexes catering to foreign tourists and wealthy Mexicans dot the coast near Puerto Vallarta. Many coastal areas are accessible only to resort-goers.

Mexico has been engaged in a public campaign to boost tourism at a time when reports of drug violence have scared off some foreign visitors. Tourism is among Mexico's top sources of income, generating about $17.5 billion last year, according to official figures.

Aristoteles Sandoval, the governor of Jalisco state, sent out a Twitter message to residents and visitors condemning the kidnapping and vowing to bolster security.

"To the inhabitants and tourists of P. Vallarta, I inform you that we have reinforced security so that you can continue your activities with normalcy," the governor said. "The incidents that occurred in the early morning today in Puerto Vallarta cannot be permitted or tolerated."

The fabled Pacific beach resort of Acapulco — more than 400 miles south of Puerto Vallarta -- has seen a decline in visitors because of shootouts and other drug-related violence in the city and environs.

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The mass kidnapping in Puerto Vallarta occurred shortly after 1 a.m. at an upscale restaurant called La Leche, situated on a main drag in the city. Five armed attackers apparently entered the restaurant and herded 10 to 12 men into a pair of white SUVs, the prosecutor said. Mexican press reports indicated that the heavily armed kidnappers wore hoods.

Four women accompanying the group at the restaurant were not taken, the prosecutor said.

The party-goers arrived at the restaurant in "luxury vehicles," the prosecutor said. Evidence indicates that those at the restaurant were having a "celebration," the prosecutor added.

Sanchez is a special correspondent.

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UPDATES:

6 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with Times reporting.

2:25 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with comments from the Jalisco state prosecutor.

1:15 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from the Jalisco governor.

This article was originally published at 12:10 p.m.

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