(AFP) – When Malcolm X’s grandson was beaten to death in a seedy Mexico City bar last week his name joined the hundreds of US citizens who have been murdered in this country in recent years.
Excluding terror attacks and US soldiers killed in action, Mexico has seen more homicides of Americans than any other part of the world in the past decade, according to an AFP analysis of US State Department figures.
At least 648 American citizens were murdered in Mexico between October 2002 and December 2012 — the latest available data — representing more than 40 percent of the almost 1,600 victims worldwide over the same period.
The closest country in terms of body count is the Philippines, with 84 homicides, followed by Honduras and the Dominican Republic with 77 each.
There were also many more citizens of the United States murdered in Mexico than were killed in “terrorist action” around the world, with 300 deaths listed in that category since October 2002.
Malcolm Shabazz, the 29-year-old grandson of civil rights leader Malcolm X, was found lying on the street in front of The Palace Club on May 9, with fatal blows to the head after he contested a $1,200 bar bill.
Two waiters were arrested this week on murder charges.
Mexico has more American visitors than any other nation — more than 20 million traveled to the southern neighbor last year, according to US government figures. And one million reside in this country.
While Americans have been killed in random criminal acts such as robberies, some have been caught in the crossfire of Mexico’s raging drug war, which has left more than 70,000 people dead since 2006.
In one of the most high profile cases, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata was killed when suspected Zetas drug cartel members shot at his car in the central state of San Luis Potosi in February 2011.
And in September 2010, cartel gunmen fatally shot David Hartley, 37, as he jet-skied with his wife, Tiffany, on a lake straddling the Texas-Tamaulipas border.
But some of the dead have included Mexicans with dual citizenship linked to gangs.
Last year, a dozen US citizens were killed in the state of Baja California and several held Mexican nationality, according to prosecutors.
“These deaths are linked to organized crime,” Victor Adrian Ramirez, spokesman for the state prosecutor’s office, told AFP.
Two brothers who were found shot dead in a house in the border city of Mexicali had been using their dual citizenship to smuggle US firearms into Mexico and bring drugs north of the border, Ramirez said.
The cities that have recorded the most homicides of Americans lie in border regions where drug cartels battle for control of lucrative narco-trafficking routes to the United States. The State Department has a travel warning against visiting most border states.
The homicides of US citizens also mirrored the rise in drug-related violence in Mexico over the past six years.
Of the 648 murders of Americans in the past decade, 511 occurred between 2006 and 2012. They rose steadily from 33 in 2007 to a peak of 113 in 2011, before dropping to 71 last year.
Tijuana saw the most homicides of US citizens in the past 10 years, with 130 deaths reported in the city that lies just across the border from San Diego, California, and was once a popular tourist draw.
Ciudad Juarez, once the world’s murder capital, recorded 120 deaths and Nuevo Laredo reported 42.
“If you look at how the drug war erupted and where it’s been the hottest in the past six years, your top three cities reflect that,” Scott Stewart, a former State Department special agent, told AFP.
In Ciudad Juarez, for instance, the Los Aztecas gang is allied with the Barrio Azteca group that operates across the border in the Texan city of El Paso.
“You have American gangsters working with Mexican gangsters hand in glove there,” said Stewart, a lead analyst at US-based intelligence consultancy Stratfor.
But a State Department official cautioned against “drawing too many conclusions” from the database, noting that it was not a statistically complete account of US citizen deaths as not all are necessarily reported to consulates.
The US official, who requested anonymity, declined to speculate as to why Mexico leads the list.
The database shows just the date, location and type of death.
Overall, 8,392 Americans were reported dead worldwide in categories ranging from road accidents to suicide, drowning and “terrorist action” since October 2002. Mexico accounted for 2,344 of all deaths, or 28 percent.