Stopping near their target, one of the criminals stays on the vehicle while the other jumps off, shoots the victim and leaps back on as they speed away. But in Mexico, the classic image of assassins on motorcycles is being replaced by a new mode of transportation: the jet ski.
On January 25, an Argentine citizen was murdered on a beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, by two suspects who fled the scene on a jet ski. This was the third such attack in recent months and marked a resurgence since the tactic was first reported back in 2016.
According to Clarín, the two hitmen shot the manager of a popular beach resort in the hotel bathroom before fleeing to the beach. A video displays the men boarding a jet ski moments later and escaping along the coastline.
The assassination comes on the heels of a December 2021 attack in nearby Cancún, another tourist hotspot. Three men reportedly arrived at Playa Langosta on jet skis before opening fire on a crowded beach in broad daylight. No injuries or deaths were reported from the attack.
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Several months prior, two local vendors were killed at Playa Tortuga, Cancún, with an American woman injured in the crossfire. El Economista reported similar methods from the most recent killing, with two individuals arriving and fleeing aboard a jet ski.
The shootings follow an analogous cluster of murders in Mexico's former tourism haven, Acapulco. Four such attacks occurred in 2016 amidst a broader wave of unceasing violence.
"This is not really new, jet skis were used earlier (than 2016) in smuggling operations. Beach assaults will continue as long as trafficking and street-level sales occur in contested beach markets," said John P. Sullivan, founder and editor of Small Wars Journal-El Centro, in an interview with InSight Crime.
InSight Crime Analysis
The choice to employ jet skis in hit-and-run jobs provides several benefits to criminal organizations. Offering an element of surprise, they allow the perpetrators to strike quickly on tourist beaches where victims would not typically suspect they are in danger.
Several jet ski assassinations borrow from the classic land strategy of having one shooter and one driver atop a motorcycle. Though attacks by water force the gunmen to disembark and wade to shore, they still deliver the rapidity of a motorcycle attack with the added benefit of leaving the police stranded.
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Furthermore, as getaway vehicles, jet skis allow for an escape from the crime scene with hitherto unheard-of efficiency. As seen in the latest killing, hitmen can simply hop aboard the waiting craft and disappear from the shoreline, where they are far harder for law enforcement to track.
While such modus operandi had previously been limited to the shores of Acapulco, in recent months, jet ski assassinations have occurred in several locations along Mexico's Riviera Maya. Such expanded modalities of attack shed light on the fall of Mexico's historically safer areas.
It has also left authorities struggling to catch up, with no arrests of jet ski gunmen recorded to date. "The best tactical intervention (against jet skis) is to monitor the shorefront and adjacent waters for potential amphibious threats. This can be achieved by using maritime patrols in high-risk areas," explained Sullivan.