GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) - Gunmen dressed as police officers shot dead seven men at a Guatemalan health clinic on Thursday in a brazen attempt to kill an alleged drug trafficker, who managed to escape the firefight, the government said.
Interior Minister Mauricio Lopez told reporters a gang of men entered the clinic in an upper-class neighborhood of the capital looking for frequent client and alleged Guatemalan drug trafficker Jairo Orellana.
When security turned the men away, the assailants opened fire with AK-47 assault rifles, killing six men thought to be Orellana’s personal security and one clinic guard before speeding away in five sport utility vehicles.
“The attack in the capital could be the product of a power struggle between drug traffickers,” Lopez told reporters. “It was directed at Jairo Orellana.”
Orellana escaped from the clinic unharmed, Lopez said.
Officials said one of the victims was a man from Alta Verapaz, a rural province roughly 75 kilometers north of the capital, where the government declared a ‘state of siege’ in December 2010, suspending constitutional rights to try to wrest control from the powerful Mexican cartel Los Zetas.
Mexican drug gangs have spread their operations deeper into Central America in order to smuggle South American cocaine toward the United States.
In May last year, Los Zetas beheaded 27 innocent farm workers in the northern border region of Peten in a dispute with the farm’s owner over drug trafficking routes.
Guatemalan president and retired General Otto Perez took office in January promising to crackdown on violent drug gangs in one of the world’s most murderous countries.
Reporting By Mike McDonald; editing by Christopher Wilson