PUEBLA, Mexico – Five suspected members of a fuel-theft gang were killed Monday in a confrontation with security forces in the central Mexican state of Puebla, authorities said.
The shootout occurred during an operation by police and marines in the municipality of Esperanza, which sits on Puebla’s border with neighboring Veracruz state, the Puebla state Attorney General’s Office said.
Security forces entered a residence thought to be a safe house belonging to Roberto de los Santos de Jesus, alias “El Bukanas,” reputed leader of the outfit that runs fuel theft, kidnapping, extortion and truck-hijacking rackets in Puebla’s Triangulo Rojo (Red Triangle) region.
The people inside the home greeted the police and marines with gunshots and the security forces returned fire, killing five suspected members of the gang led by El Bukanas, the state AG Office said.
Monday’s raid was based on information that emerged after a clash last week in Vicente Guerrero, Puebla, where a marine officer and five other people were killed amid a search for El Bukanas, whose nickname is based on a common Mexican pronunciation of Buchanan’s, a brand of scotch.
El Bukanas’ territory encompasses the municipalities of Tepeaca, Tecamachalco, Quecholac and Palmar de Bravo, where fuel thieves – known as huachicoleros – enjoy a high degree of support from residents.
The Bukanas outfit is blamed for the killings of two police officers earlier this year.
The huachicoleros target two pipelines operated by state-owned Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex), which suffers both the loss of fuel and extensive damage to the infrastructure.
Pemex said in a report that 755,869 liters (199,690 gallons) of various fuels were stolen from company pipelines between 2011 and 2016.
Theft of fuel from pipelines for sale on the black market costs Mexico some $5 billion a year, according to Pemex.