MEXICO CITY, March 6 (Reuters) – Mexican and U.S. authorities said on Monday they were working to find four Americans who were shot at by gunmen in northern Mexico and then kidnapped shortly after crossing the border.
The four Americans were in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates when they entered Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on Friday, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico said, seeking the public’s help in identifying the kidnappers.
The four had entered Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, on Friday and were travelling in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates.
The FBI San Antonio Division office said in a statement Sunday that the vehicle came under fire shortly after it entered Mexico.
“All four Americans were placed in a vehicle and taken from the scene by armed men,” the office said. The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for the return of the victims and the arrest of the culprits.
The unidentified U.S. citizens were ambushed Friday by gunmen who fired on the group shortly after they crossed from Brownsville, Texas, into Matamoros, Tamaulipas, according to the FBI. The Americans were driving a white minivan with North Carolina license plates.
The kidnappers moved all four into another vehicle before fleeing the scene.
Salazar noted that an innocent Mexican citizen was killed during the attack.
“We have no greater priority than the safety of our citizens – this is the US government’s most fundamental role,” the ambassador said in a statement.
Salazar said various law enforcement agencies are working with Mexican authorities “at all levels of government to achieve the safe return of our compatriots.”
The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for the return of the Americans and the arrests of those involved.
Drug cartels unofficially rule over Matamoros
For years, Matamoros has been a stronghold for various feuding criminal organizations, particularly the Gulf Cartel, which has used the city as a key pipeline for moving cocaine, meth and fentanyl across the border into Texas — and from there across the U.S.
The U.S. State Department has advised Americans not to travel to Tamaulipas, in part due to the threat of kidnapping. The city of Matamoros is over the border from Brownsville, Texas.
Speaking at a regular news briefing in Washington, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said U.S. law enforcement was in touch with Mexican authorities, as were the departments of State and Homeland Security.
“Our thoughts are with the families of these individuals and we stand ready to provide all appropriate consular assistance,” she said. “We will continue to coordinate with Mexico and push them to bring those responsible to justice.”
President Joe Biden had been informed of the situation, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. She declined to answer other questions, citing privacy concerns.
Law enforcement has not released the names of those who they said were kidnapped but Zalandria Brown of Florence, South Carolina, said she has been in contact with the FBI and local officials after learning that her younger brother, Zindell Brown, is one of the four victims.
‘This is like a bad dream’
Brown said her brother, who lives in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and two friends had accompanied a third friend who was going to Mexico for a tummy tuck surgery.
The four friends, according to Brown, were extremely close and had planned to split up driving duties for the trip. They were aware of the dangers in Mexico, she added, and her brother had expressed some misgivings.
Increased cartel violence in the region
Cartel violence has increased over the past 10 to 15 years in Tamaulipas, and violence within the state has left thousands of victims uncounted because the cartels have a history of taking bodies of their own with them.
The Gulf Cartel is currently based in Matamoros which directly borders Brownsville, where U.S. citizens frequently cross to travel deeper into Mexico, visit family, attend medical appointments, or shop.
Although Matamoros was once a popular vacation spot and a relatively calm area, the State Department has warned U.S. citizens not to travel to the city due to ongoing violence.
In 2014, three American siblings disappeared near Matamoros while visiting their father and were later found shot to death and burned. Their parents said they had been abducted by men dressed in police gear identifying themselves as “Hercules,” a tactical security unit in the city.
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