MEXICO CITY (AP) — Five gunmen burst into a bar early Thursday and killed a reputed drug gang boss, a reporter and four other people in Mexico's Gulf coast state of Veracruz, authorities said.
The Veracruz state prosecutors' office said the gunmen entered the bar and went directly for the victims, who included the local boss of the Zetas drug gang, identified as Jose Marquez Balderas. It said reporter Juan Santos Carrera was among those sitting with him.
Two other reporters in the bar were not shot, but were fired by their newspaper for being at the scene with the local cartel boss.
Police chased the assailants, and two officers were wounded in an ensuing exchange of gunfire in the streets of the city of Orizaba, but there were no immediate arrests. The prosecutor's office said some of the victims had weapons with them.
Veracruz state now has seen 14 journalists killed since Gov. Javier Duarte took office in 2010 and three more have gone missing, drawing criticism from press freedom advocates. But the Televisa network, for which Santos Carrera worked, said he resigned two months ago and Flavino Rios, the state's interior secretary, said the attack "had nothing to do with the reporter's journalistic work."
Rios blamed the shootout on two small bands of "ex-Zetas" that he said are fighting for control of Orizaba, an industrial city known for beer brewing.
He said the two other reporters at the bar told authorities that Santos Carrera was the go-between who distributed Zetas money to other journalists. It was not clear if they were receiving money, he said.
The Associated Press could not immediately locate relatives of Santos Carrera to seek comment on Rios' claim about the dead journalist.
Prosecutors said the two other reporters were not targeted in the attack but had been put under government protection.
Jose Abella Garcia, the owner of the newspaper where they worked, El Buen Tono, said the two reporters had been dismissed for being at the bar with a gang leader.
"They have been fired. They are being given protection and are under investigation; they will have to explain what they were doing there at that table with the gang boss," Abella Garcia said.
Abella Garcia said that while his former reporters had not been shot at during the attack, at least one of the assailants returned after the shootings and hit one of them with a bottle, before fleeing again.
Violence and corruption have been a recurring problem for journalists in Veracruz, a state riven by crime and turf battle between drug gangs.
"We have fired a lot of reporters in this kind of case," Abella Garcia said. "From what I see, it's hard for the reporters because they are in the street and the Zetas pick them up and tell them, 'You're going to report to me, and I'll tell you what stories can run and what can't. We'll approve some and here's some money,'" Abella Garcia said. "They give them money to keep them happy. Then they kill them."
The most recent instance of violence involving a journalist came last month, when photographer Ruben Espinosa was killed at a Mexico City apartment along with four women. He had fled Veracruz earlier in July after being harassed after taking photos of bloodied students who had been attacked by masked men, though Mexico City prosecutors have not established that he was the main target of the attackers.