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American Woman Killed in Apparent Crossfire During Drug Dispute in Tulum

An American woman, originally from Los Angeles, and a man from Belize were killed. Police officials confirmed Sunday that the killings happened at a beach club in the Mexican resort city of Tulum. It seems there was a dispute among several drug dealers. 

Prosecutors from the Caribbean coast state of Quintana Roo emphasized that the American woman had no connection with the alleged drug dealer who was also killed in the shooting Friday night. The woman, who has been identified as 44-year-old Niko Honarbakhsh, was caught in the middle of the shootout and killed. Honarbaksh was living in Cancun at the time of the incident. 


Prosecutors have denied that the two killed in the shootout were a couple, but the prosecutor’s office dismissed these reports and called them inaccurate. 


The Central American country of Belize shares its northern border with Mexico on the Caribbean coast. Cancun is located south of the resort towns of Cancun and Playa del Carmen, closer to Belize. 


Prosecutors said the dead man had cocaine and pills with him when he was killed, and he was believed to be a drug dealer. The suspects in the shootings have been identified and are being actively pursued. 


This isn’t the first time foreign tourists have been killed in gang shootouts in Quintana Roo. The once peaceful coast state popular for its beach resort towns has been taken over by drug cartels in recent years.  


In 2021 in Tulum, two tourists - one being a California blogger born in India and the other a German citizen - were killed in a shootout while eating at a restaurant. They were caught in the crossfire of a fight between rival drug dealers. 


In 2022, two Canadians were killed at a hotel resort near the resort town of Playa del Carmen. The killing was motivated by debts between international gangs that were dedicated to drugs and weapons trafficking. 


Four major drug cartels operate in the greater Cancun region: The Sinaloa Cartel, the New Generation Jalisco Cartel, the Gulf Cartel and a smaller organization known as the Grupo Regional, which is a cartel formed from defunct cartels and local street gangs.


In 2022, Mexico’s president Andres Manuel López Obrador created a campaign aimed at preventing tourists from using drugs at Quintana Roo beaches.


“Don’t put yourself at risk. Drug dealers at beaches and nightclubs will get you into trouble. They are not your friends. They’re criminals,” the warning that’s being handed out at every hotel in Quintana Roo reads. All visitors are required to sign the warning before checking in.


Last year, in response to the increase in violence, the US State Department created a travel alert warning that issued travelers to “exercise increased situational awareness”, especially during nighttime at Mexico’s Caribbean beach resorts like Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum.


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