The recent killing of eight people in El Salvador was the kind of massacre that is a trademark of the transnational drug trade, in a country already wracked by violence linked to gangs and police.
On March 29, eight people were tied up and shot execution-style at a truck stop just outside of the nation's capital San Salvador. Witnesses described at least 10 suspects who arrived in three black SUVs, and proceeded to ransack a nearby house. Authorities believe the suspects were looking for drugs and the massacre was part of a "settling of accounts" by a drug trafficking organization, local media reported.
The suspects reportedly used silenced pistols and retrieved most of their shell casings, indicating a level of professionalism. The letter "Z" was smeared in blood on the walls of the ransacked home, a symbol traditionally associated with infamously violent Mexican criminal group the Zetas.
During the same weekend as the truck stop massacre, 53 homicides were reported nationwide. The surge in violence follows El Salvador's already worsening security situation, which is generally attributed to local street gangs, including the nation's largest: MS13 and Barrio 18.
Flooded with corpses, San Salvador's forensic institute was unable to carry out autopsies on all the victims, La Prensa Grafica reported. "We know we're in an emergency, that the situation in El Salvador gets more violent everyday," forensic institute director Jose Miguel Fortin was quoted as saying.
InSight Crime Analysis
Since the collapse of the gang truce brokered in 2012, El Salvador's security situation has been in a downward spiral, with police describing themselves as at war with street gangs. The possible participation of foreign criminal groups like the Zetas can only make things worse.
SEE ALSO: El Salvador News and Profiles
However, the bloody "Z" present at the scene of the crime doesn't necesarily confirm the Zetas' involvement. In Mexico, gangs have been known to use the Zetas' name to intimidate their rivals and inspire fear. Those behind the massacre in El Salvador may be doing the same, or could have invoked the Zetas' name in an attempt to confuse authorities and hide their true identity.
Additionally, the Mexican group has seen its power decline in recent years. Badly divided and facing down the capture of top leaders like alias "Z42", there is reason to doubt that the Zetas have retained an international reach in El Salvador.
That being said, El Salvador is still a major transit nation for drugs heading northwards. Whatever group was behind the massacre was obviously intent on sending a message in El Salvador's underworld. If this is a herald for more violence related to the country's transnational drug trade, El Salvador will face even grimmer days ahead.
Update: Authorities in El Salvador have confirmed the massacre was a "settling of accounts," and that one of those killed was cousin to a member of the Perrones drug transport organization.
SEE ALSO: Perrones News and Profile