VICTORIA CITY (Mexico), March 7 (AP) — Gunmen abducted four U.S. citizens who crossed the border from Texas into Mexico last week to buy medicine but were captured in a shootout that killed at least one Mexican citizen, U.S. and Mexican officials said on Monday.
The four were in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates. The FBI’s San Antonio office said in a statement Sunday that they were attacked shortly after entering the city of Matamoros on Friday from Brownsville, the southernmost tip of Texas near the Gulf Coast.
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“All four Americans were placed in a vehicle and removed from the scene by armed officers,” the office said. The FBI offered a reward of $50,000 for the return of the victim and the arrest of the kidnapper.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said on Monday that the four were going to buy medicine and “there was a clash between the groups and they were detained.” , but no details were provided.
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A woman who was driving in Matamoros witnessed the shooting and kidnapping. She asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.
The scene illustrates the climate of terror that has prevailed over the years in Matamoros, a city controlled by Gulf cartel factions that often kill each other. Amid the violence, thousands of Mexicans have gone missing in the state of Tamaulipas alone, where Matamoros is located.
The woman said she saw the white van being run over by another vehicle near the intersection before gunshots rang out.
Another SUV drove up and several armed men jumped out.
“All of a sudden, they (the shooters) were right in front of us,” she said. “I went into a state of shock, no one was honking, no one was moving. Everyone must be thinking the same thing, if we move, they’ll see us, or they might shoot us.”
The gunman forced a woman who was able to walk into the back of a pickup truck, she said. Another man was lifted onto a truck by the gunman, but his head was still moving.
“The other two were dragged across the pavement by them and we don’t know if they were alive or dead,” she said.
Mexican authorities arrived a few minutes later.
A video posted on social media on Friday showed men carrying assault rifles and tan body armor as they lifted the four into the back of a pickup truck in broad daylight. One is alive and sitting, but the others appear to be either dead or injured.
The shootout in Matamoros on Friday was so intense that the U.S. consulate issued a hazard alert and local authorities warned people to shelter in place. It was not immediately clear how the kidnapping was connected to Friday’s violence.
The U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, said in a statement Monday that Americans were kidnapped at gunpoint and an “innocent” Mexican citizen was killed in the attack. He said U.S. judicial agencies are working with their Mexican counterparts to find the missing persons. Authorities provided no other details about who the victims were or where they came from.
White House press secretary Karin Jean-Pierre said Monday that President Joe Biden has been informed of the situation. She declined to answer additional questions, citing privacy concerns.
Tamaulipas state police said there were casualties on Friday, but the exact number was not yet known. State police said on social media that neither law enforcement nor the military were involved in “two armed incidents between unidentified civilians.”
Victims of violence in Matamoros and other large border cities in Tamaulipas are often uncountable because the cartels have a history of taking their own bodies. Local media often avoid reporting such incidents due to security concerns, creating an information vacuum.
Photos of the scene seen by The Associated Press showed a white minivan pulled to the side of the road after colliding with a red SUV, with the driver’s side window popped open and all doors open. Many people lay on the street next to it, surrounded by gunmen with rifles.
Their location appeared to match a video posted online from another angle showing them being dragged across the road before being loaded into the back of a white pickup truck. A man sitting on the street walks towards the pickup under his own strength. At least one other person appeared to lift his head from the sidewalk before being hauled into the truck.
The many border crossings between Tamaulipas and Texas are lucrative for cartels that move drugs, migrants and guns between Mexico and the United States.
A State Department travel advisory for Tamaulipas warns U.S. citizens not to travel there. However, as a border city, U.S. citizens living in Brownsville or elsewhere in Texas often transit to visit relatives, see a doctor, or do shopping. It is also a border crossing point for people traveling deep into Mexico.
Previously, Matamoros, the headquarters of the powerful Gulf cartel, was relatively peaceful. For years, a night out in Matamoros has also been part of the “two-country vacation” that flocks to South Padre Island, Texas, during spring break.
But an increase in cartel violence over the past 10 to 15 years has scared off much of the business. From time to time, American citizens are involved in violent incidents.
In October 2014, three American siblings went missing near Matamoros and were later found shot and burned to death. They disappeared two weeks ago while visiting their father in Mexico. Their parents said they were abducted by men in police uniforms who identified themselves as “Hercules”, the tactical security force in the violent border city. (Associated Press)
(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)