Small Wars Journal

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #51: Gunmen Attack Cancún Beach from Jet Skis, Killing Two People

Wed, 06/16/2021 - 7:42pm

Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #51: Gunmen Attack Cancún Beach from Jet Skis, Killing Two People

John P. Sullivan and Robert J. Bunker

On Friday 11 June 2021, two gunmen attacked beach vendors on a tourist beach in Cancún, killing two vendors and injuring an American tourist. The attackers accessed the beach from the sea via personal watercraft and then left the scene after the assault on the same craft. Similar incidents have taken at Mexican beaches over the past five years.

Key Information: “Balacera en playa de Cancún deja 2 muertos y una turista de Estados Unidos herida.” El Economista. 11 June 2021, https://www.eleconomista.com.mx/estados/Balacera-en-playa-de-Cancun-deja-2-muertos-y-una-turista-de-Estados-Unidos-herida-20210611-0075.html:

Dos hombres murieron y una turista estadounidense resultó con heridas en el hombro durante una balacera que se desató este viernes en una playa del balneario de Cancún (este), en el Caribe mexicano, informaron autoridades locales.

La agresión se registró hacia las 2 de la tarde en Playa Tortugas, una de las primeras que se localizan en el Bulevar Kukulkán, de 26 kilómetros de extensión y sobre el cual se erigen exclusivos hoteles….

…Los agresores habrían huido a bordo de motos acuáticas hacia mar abierto sin que hayan podido ser localizados por autoridades, detalló a la AFP un testigo que solicitó resguardar su identidad.[1]

Key Information: “Cancún: investigan balacera en playa Tortugas que dejó dos muertos y una turista extranjera herida,” Infobae. 11 June 2021, https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2021/06/12/cancun-investigan-balacera-en-playa-tortugas-que-dejo-dos-muertos-y-una-turista-extranjera-herida/:

“La @FGEQuintanaRoo [Fiscalía General del Estado de Quintana Roo] informa que inició la carpeta de investigación relacionada a los hechos ocurridos en una playa pública ubicada en el km 3.5 de Bulevar Kukulcán donde dos personas del sexo masculino perdieron la vida aparentemente por impactos de arma de fuego”, destacó la dependencia en un breve comunicado…

…De acuerdo con reportes locales, los agresores arribaron desde el mar a bordo de motos acuáticas. El tiroteo ocurrió frente a un local de souvenirs, supuestamente, al lado de un snack-bar de la Plaza Tequila. Tan pronto como cometieron el crimen, los atacantes se dieron a la fuga.[2]

Key Information: Associated Press and Andy Torres, “US tourist is shot and wounded in Cancun after assassins leap off jet skis and shoot two beach gift shop workers dead.” Daily Mail. 11 June 2021, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9678841/Tourist-wounded-beach-killings-Mexico-resort-Canc-n.html:

•    Kanya, a 30-year-old woman from Kentucky, was shot and wounded after two men opened fire at a beach gift shop in Cancún, Mexico, on Friday [11 June 2021]

•    The assailants stepped off two jet skis on the short of Playa Tortugas and shot and killed two male workers before they escaped…

She is not believed to have been targeted by the executioners, but got caught in the crossfire of their shooting.

Afterwards, the assassins sprinted back to their jet skis and fled the scene. The victims have not been named, and no arrests have been made.  

Key Information: Jeff Ernst, “Narco Hitmen on Jet Skis Sprayed a Cancun Beach With Bullets, Killing Two People.” Vice. 14 June 2021, https://www.vice.com/en/article/5dbdxd/narco-hitmen-on-jet-skis-sprayed-a-cancun-beach-with-bullets-killing-two-people:

An American woman has been hospitalized in Cancun following a beachside shooting that left two people dead. Identified only as Kanya N, the Kentucky resident was hit by a stray bullet in the shoulder as she relaxed underneath a palm-roofed hut while on vacation over the weekend.

According to witnesses, a pair of assassins attacked the beach using a jet ski, firing 10 to 15 shots before fleeing across the turquoise waters that attract millions of tourists from around the world each year.

The victims, who died at the scene, were reportedly street vendors who sold craft goods to tourists. But many of those vendors double as small-scale drug dealers – feeding demand from tourists for marijuana and cocaine. The shooting, which occurred in the afternoon of June 11, is believed to be the result of a territorial dispute between rival gangs…

…The use of jet skis by assassins is uncommon, but not without precedent. Across the country in Acapulco, one of Mexico’s most-violent cities, gunmen have made a number of attacks from the sea, including killing a street vendor and others in what authorities believe was also related to small-scale drug dealing.

PoliciaCancun

Policía de Cancún “Operativo Refuerso Playa’ conjunto con personal de la Marina (Cancún Police Operation ‘Beach Reinforcement’ together with Navy personnel).Source: Policía de Cancún, 11 June 2021, https://twitter.com/PoliciadeCancun/status/1403426815629168640?s=2.

Who: Two gunmen; suspected cartel sicarios (assassins). No cartel specified.

What: Accessed a tourist beach via jet skis, dismounted, fired 10-15 shots at beach vendors (suspected narcomenudo or street level drug dealers) killing two vendors and wounding an American tourist. They left the scene via the jet skis after the assault.

When: Friday 11 June 2021, at approximately 1400 hours (2:00 PM).

Where: Kilometro 3.5 de Bulevar Kukulcán (Kukulcán Boulevard), Playa Tortugas, Cancún, Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Why: Suspected street taxation of drug dealers.

FGEQR

Crime Scene Photo, Playas Tortugas, Cancún, MX Source: Fiscalía General del Estado de Quintana Roo (Quintana Roo State Attorney General), 12 June 2021, https://www.facebook.com/FGEQuintanaRoo/photos/pcb.2858877311070029/2858876834403410/?type=3&theater.

Analysis

On Friday 11 June 2021, two gunmen accessed the tourist beach at Kilometro 3.5 Bulevar Kukulcán (Kukulcán Boulevard), Playa Tortugas, Cancún, Quintana Roo on motos acuáticas (jet skis), where they shot and killed two beach vendors and injured an American tourist. The sicarios (assassins) reportedly fired 10-15 shots before they left the scene via the jet skis. The shooters are suspected cartel operatives, however no specific cartel has been mentioned. The Cancún area is a known drug-trafficking hot spot and the Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) is active in the region. Other potential cartels in the area are remnants (residual members) of the Gulf Cartel and Zetas or affiliated gangs.[3]

This is not the first ‘jet ski’ attack in Mexico (See Table 1). In April 2018, gunmen on “water scooters” shot at a vendor on a beach in Cancún’s hotel zone. No injuries resulted from that attack.[4]  An earlier jet ski attack occurred in Acapulco, Guerrero on Friday 29 January 2016. In that attack, one beach vendor was killed when: “Two sicarios (assassins) on a jet ski—an operator and a shooter—engaged in a targeted killing of a clothing salesman in a beach front tourist area. The shooter got off the jet ski, swam to shore, and with a 9mm pistol put three rounds into the clothing salesman’s chest which subsequently killed him. The shooter then swam back to the jet ski and the pair of sicarios made their escape.”[5]  

Table 1

Table 1. Jet Ski Criminal Gang/Cartel Attacks in Mexico 2016-2021

Beachfront vendors at Mexican tourist beaches are often involved in retail-level drug sales (narcomenudo) and have been targets of cartel and gang enforcement and extortion actions (street taxation) in the past.[6] This is the third documented personal watercraft attack in Mexico although three earlier incidents, while unconfirmed, have reportedly taken place:

The jet-ski murder, which occurred on January 29 in early afternoon, is the fourth of its kind to see killers escape from Acapulco Bay to another part of Guerrero state's jagged Pacific coastline.[7]  

This TTP (tactic, technique, procedure) demonstrates the continued use of a successful means of beachfront infiltration and exfiltration in criminal gang/cartel assault operations. While the earliest incident witnessed the shooter swimming to the shore and then back to the waiting craft manned by an operator, the more evolved tactic now appears to be utilizing two jet ski operators/shooters who take the craft onto the beach. This provides less warning time to the intended target(s), allows far quicker exfiltration from the beach area, and utilizes a wing-man system for engagement (targeting) purposes. It also provides an escape backup if one of the watercraft should malfunction. For assassination purposes, pistols seem to be preferred weapon of choice—they are readily concealable on crowded beachfronts, manageable on the craft, and limit bystander casualties with tighter round clusters—as compared to less discriminate and more inaccurate machine pistols and assault rifles. This is similar in many respects to the use of pistols by assassins utilizing motorcycles.  

Sources

Associated Press and Andy Torres, “US tourist is shot and wounded in Cancun after assassins leap off jet skis and shoot two beach gift shop workers dead.” Daily Mail. 11 June 2021, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9678841/Tourist-wounded-beach-killings-Mexico-resort-Canc-n.html.

“Balacera en playa de Cancún deja 2 muertos y una turista de Estados Unidos herida.” El Economista. 11 June 2021, https://www.eleconomista.com.mx/estados/Balacera-en-playa-de-Cancun-deja-2-muertos-y-una-turista-de-Estados-Unidos-herida-20210611-0075.html.

“Cancún: investigan balacera en playa Tortugas que dejó dos muertos y una turista extranjera herida,” Infobae. 11 June 2021, https://www.infobae.com/america/mexico/2021/06/12/cancun-investigan-balacera-en-playa-tortugas-que-dejo-dos-muertos-y-una-turista-extranjera-herida/.

Jeff Ernst, “Narco Hitmen on Jet Skis Sprayed a Cancun Beach With Bullets, Killing Two People.” Vice. 14 June 2021, https://www.vice.com/en/article/5dbdxd/narco-hitmen-on-jet-skis-sprayed-a-cancun-beach-with-bullets-killing-two-people.

Significance: Cancún, Motos acuáticas (personal watercraft or Jet Skis), Sicarios, Technology Use, TTPs

Endnotes

[1] In English, the title reads: ”Shooting on Cancun beach leaves 2 dead and a US tourist injured.” The text reads: “Two men died and an American tourist was injured in the shoulder during a shooting that broke out this Friday on a beach in the resort of Cancun (east), in the Mexican Caribbean, local authorities reported.”…”The attack was registered at around 2 in the afternoon at Playa Tortugas, one of the first to be located on Kukulkan Boulevard, 26 kilometers long and on which exclusive hotels are erected.”…”The aggressors would have fled aboard jet skis into the open sea without being able to be located by authorities, a witness who requested to protect his identity told AFP.”

[2] In English, the title reads: “Cancun: shooting on Tortugas beach that left two dead and a foreign tourist injured investigated.” The text reads: “‘The @FGEQuintanaRoo [Quintana Roo State Attorney General] reports that it started the investigation folder related to the events that occurred on a public beach located at km 3.5 of Bulevar Kukulcán where two male persons apparently lost their lives due to firearm impacts, highlighted the agency in a short statement.”… “According to local reports, the assailants arrived from the sea aboard jet skis. The shooting occurred in front of a souvenir shop, allegedly next to a snack-bar in Plaza Tequila. As soon as they committed the crime, the attackers fled.”

[3] See Katie Jones, “Mexico’s Tourist Corridor: Dream Destination for Drug Traffickers.” InSight Crime. 10 February 2021, https://insightcrime.org/news/mexico-tourist-corridor-dream-destination-drug-traffickers/.

[4] The attack occurred on Thursday 19 April 2018. “No one hurt as gunmen on jet skis open fire on Cancun beach.” Dallas Morning News. 21 April 2018, https://www.dallasnews.com/news/mexico/2018/04/21/no-one-hurt-as-gunmen-on-jet-skis-open-fire-on-cancun-beach/.

[5] Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #27: Sicarios Use a Jet Ski for Beach Front Targeted Killing in Acapulco.” Small Wars Journal. 3 February 2016, https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/mexican-cartel-tactical-note-27-sicarios-use-a-jet-ski-for-beach-front-targeted-killing-in-.

[6] See Victoria Dittmar, “Criminal Groups Zero in on Mexico Resort Construction.” InSight Crime. 8 April 2021, https://insightcrime.org/news/criminal-groups-hotel-industry-riviera-maya-mexico.

[7] Alasdair Baverstock, “EXCLUSIVE Bloodbath on the beaches: The Mexican drug gangs riding on JET SKIS to blast victims in ‘James Bond-style’ executions in Acapulco where 12 murders take place every day.” Daily Mail. 26 February 2016, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3464121/Now-Mexico-drugs-...-James-Bond-style-execution-Acapulco-12-murders-DAY-648-year.html.

Additional Reading

Victoria Dittmar, “Criminal Groups Zero in on Mexico Resort Construction.” InSight Crime. 8 April 2021

Robert J. Bunker, “Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #27: Sicarios Use a Jet Ski for Beach Front Targeted Killing in Acapulco.” Small Wars Journal. 3 February 2016.

Paul Rexton Kan, “Mexican Cartels as Vicious Firms.” Small Wars Journal. 15 March 2015.

 

About the Author(s)

Dr. John P. Sullivan was a career police officer. He is an honorably retired lieutenant with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, specializing in emergency operations, transit policing, counterterrorism, and intelligence. He is currently an Instructor in the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California. Sullivan received a lifetime achievement award from the National Fusion Center Association in November 2018 for his contributions to the national network of intelligence fusion centers. He completed the CREATE Executive Program in Counter-Terrorism at the University of Southern California and holds a Bachelor of Arts in Government from the College of William and Mary, a Master of Arts in Urban Affairs and Policy Analysis from the New School for Social Research, and a PhD from the Open University of Catalonia (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya). His doctoral thesis was “Mexico’s Drug War: Cartels, Gangs, Sovereignty and the Network State.” He can be reached at jpsullivan@smallwarsjournal.com.

Dr. Robert J. Bunker is Director of Research and Analysis, C/O Futures, LLC, and an Instructor at the Safe Communities Institute (SCI) at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. He holds university degrees in political science, government, social science, anthropology-geography, behavioral science, and history and has undertaken hundreds of hours of counterterrorism training. Past professional associations include Minerva Chair at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College and Futurist in Residence, Training and Development Division, Behavioral Science Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation Academy, Quantico. Dr. Bunker has well over 500 publications—including about 40 books as co-author, editor, and co-editor—and can be reached at docbunker@smallwarsjournal.com.