Two of the four US citizens kidnapped in crime-plagued northeastern Mexico were found dead Tuesday, prompting a vow by Washington to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice.
The two others were located alive several days after the group was snatched at gunpoint having apparently crossed the border for medical reasons, Mexican authorities said.
The attorney general’s office confirmed that of the four abductees, two were dead and one of the others was injured, Tamaulipas state governor Americo Villarreal told a news conference by telephone.
The US citizens traveled to Matamoros, in Tamaulipas state, on Friday in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said in an earlier statement.
It offered a $50,000 reward for help leading to the return of the unidentified victims and the arrest of the perpetrators.
“Shortly after crossing into Mexico, unidentified gunmen fired upon the passengers in the (minivan). All four Americans were placed in a vehicle and taken from the scene by armed men,” the FBI said.
The White House denounced the kidnappings as “unacceptable” and offered condolences to families of the victims.
“We’re going to work closely with the Mexican government to ensure that justice is done in this case,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said.
He told reporters that Washington was still learning about details of the incident from Mexican officials.
“Right now our focus is very squarely on these four Americans and the families that have been affected by the attack,” Kirby added.
“We don’t have these four Americans back on home soil. And really that’s what our focus is right now,” he said.
– Cartel hot spot –
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday that the victims were believed to have entered the country to buy medicines and got caught up in a confrontation between criminal groups.
“We’re very sorry that this is happening in our country,” Lopez Obrador told reporters after the confirmation of the deaths.
“We send our condolences to the families of the victims, to friends, to the people of the United States, to the US government,” he added.
A Mexican national was killed in the incident.
Matamoros, located across the US border from Brownsville, Texas, has been beset by violence linked to drug trafficking and other organized crime.
Mexico is plagued by cartel-related bloodshed that has seen more than 340,000 people murdered since the government deployed the military in the war on drugs in 2006.
The US State Department advises against travel to Tamaulipas due to crime and kidnapping.
“Organized crime activity — including gun battles, murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, forced disappearances, extortion, and sexual assault — is common along the northern border and in Ciudad Victoria,” the state capital, according to a US travel advisory.
“Criminal groups target public and private passenger buses, as well as private automobiles traveling through Tamaulipas, often taking passengers and demanding ransom payments,” it warned.
Despite the risks, Matamoros, located on the banks of the Rio Grande river separating the two countries, is a major stopping point for migrants heading for the United States.