Seven dead in suspected Honduran drug gang attack

TEGUCIGALPA, March 2 (Reuters) - Unidentified gunmen shot and killed seven people on Sunday in a city in northern Honduras known for its violent criminal gangs, officials said.

Two others were injured when several men began shooting into a bar with AK-47 rifles and 9mm pistols from a black van, security ministry spokesman Hector Mejia said.

The gunmen sped away after the attack, which occurred in a poor suburb of San Pedro Sula on the Caribbean coast.

Mejia said it appeared to be a revenge attack on a hitman.

Honduras, one of Latin America's poorest countries, is riddled with street gangs, some of whom are mixed up with drug traffickers who run South American cocaine up toward the United States by land, air and sea.

Fights often erupt among drug gangs who want to control the largely wild and unpoliced Caribbean coastline so they can traffic loads of cocaine by speedboat.

San Pedro Sula, Honduras' second-largest city and the country's busiest business hub, is in the grip of the violent "Mara" gangs, which originated in Central American immigrant communities in Los Angeles.

Along with muggings, carjackings and extortion, the often young and heavily tattooed gang members sell cocaine on the street and act as hitmen for drug cartels, officials say.

The area where the shooting happened is the turf of the Mara Salvatrucha, one of the country's most powerful gangs. (Reporting by Gustavo Palencia; Writing by Catherine Bremer)