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Gunmen Kidnap US Citizens Who Crossed Into Mexico to Buy Medicine

Gunmen kidnapped four US citizens who crossed into Mexico from Texas last week to buy medicine and got caught in a shootout that killed at least one Mexican citizen, officials said on Monday.

The four were in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates. They came under fire on Friday shortly after entering the city of Matamoros from Brownsville, the southernmost tip of Texas near the Gulf coast, the FBI San Antonio division office said in a statement on Sunday.

“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 victims’ return and the arrest of the culprits.

The Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said on Monday that the four were going to buy medicine and ended up in the crossfire between two armed groups, without offering details.

A video posted to social media on Friday shows armed men, some wearing tan body armor, who load four people into the bed of a pickup truck in broad daylight. One was alive and sitting up, but the others appeared to be either dead or wounded.

Matamoros is home to warring factions of the Gulf drug cartel as leadership changes have led to bloody infighting. Amid the violence, thousands of Mexicans have disappeared.

Shootouts there on Friday were so bad that the US consulate issued an alert about the danger and local authorities warned people to shelter in place. It was not immediately clear how the abductions could have been connected to that violence Friday.

The US ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, said in a statement on Monday that the Americans were kidnapped at gunpoint and an “innocent” Mexican citizen died in the attack. He said various US justice agencies were working with their Mexican counterparts to recover the missing US citizens. Authorities have provided no other details about who the victims were or where they were from.

Joe Biden had been informed of the situation, the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, said on Monday. She declined to answer other questions, citing privacy concerns.

Tamaulipas state police said people had been killed and injured on Friday, but did not say how many. The state police said that neither police nor the military were involved in Friday’s shootouts.

“There have been two armed incidents between unidentified civilians,” the state police said Friday on social media. “The exact number of the fallen is being corroborated.”

Victims of violence in Matamoros and other large border cities of Tamaulipas often go uncounted, because the cartels have a history of taking bodies of their own with them. Local media often avoid reporting on such incidents out of safety concerns, creating an information vacuum.

Photographs from the scene viewed by the Associated Press show a white minivan with the driver’s side window shot out and all of the doors open sitting on the side of the road after apparently colliding with a red SUV. Several people were lying in the street beside it surrounded by rifle-toting gunmen.

Their positions appeared to correspond with the video posted online which showed them being dragged across the street and loaded into the bed of a white pickup.

The US state department’s travel warning for Tamaulipas state warns US citizens not to travel there. However, being a border city, US citizens who live in Brownsville or elsewhere in Texas frequently cross to visit family, attend medical appointments or shop. It would also be a crossing point for people traveling deeper into Mexico.

Previously, as the headquarters of the powerful Gulf cartel, Matamoros was relatively calm. For years, a night out in Matamoros was also part of the “two-nation vacation” for spring breakers flocking to Texas’s South Padre Island.

But increased cartel violence over the past 10 to 15 years frightened away much of that business. Sometimes US citizens are swept up in the violence.

Source : The Guardian