9 dead in shootings involving fuel thieves in Mexico

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Nine people were killed in central Mexico in a series of shootings involving disputes between suspected fuel thieves, officials said.

It was the latest round of violence in an area east of Mexico City where thieves who siphon fuel out of state-run pipelines have fought police, the army and each other.

Prosecutors in Puebla state said late Monday the shootings started when a gang of gunmen led by a man known as "El Cuije" - "The Lizard" - went looking for other thieves to extort money from them. They killed three people on the spot and kidnapped five others, whose bodies were found elsewhere, burned.

A local police official was also killed in circumstances related to the shootings in the township of Huehuetlan El Grande. Another policeman and a town official were injured.

Mexican drug and criminal gangs frequently charge other criminals for the right to operate in their territory and that part of Puebla state has come to be dominated by fuel thieves.

In May, gunmen using local residents as human shields opened fire on Mexican army patrols investigating fuel pipeline thefts, in clashes that left four soldiers and six attackers dead.

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