Mexican and US authorities have said they were working to urgently secure the safe return of four US citizens shot at and kidnapped by gunmen after crossing the border into Mexico.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) offered on Monday a $50,000 reward for help finding the unidentified victims and arresting the perpetrators of the incident, in which a Mexican national was killed.
The US citizens crossed into Matamoros, in Tamaulipas state, on Friday in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates, the FBI said in a statement released by the US embassy in Mexico.
“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.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said the victims were believed to have entered the country to buy medicines and got caught up in a confrontation between criminal groups.
The Mexican security ministry was working with the FBI to find them, he told reporters.
The US ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salzar, said in a statement that an “innocent Mexican citizen was tragically killed” in the incident.
“US law enforcement officials from numerous agencies are working with Mexican authorities at all levels of government to secure the safe return of our compatriots,” he added.
The White House said it was closely following the case.
“These sorts of attacks are unacceptable,” spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre said.
“Our thoughts are with the families of these individuals,” she said, adding that the US administration was coordinating with Mexican authorities.
Organised crime, violence
Matamoros, located across the US border from Brownsville, Texas, has been beset by violence linked to drug trafficking and other organised crime.
Tamaulipas’s highways are considered among the most dangerous in Mexico due to the threat of kidnapping and extortion by criminal gangs.
The US consulate in Matamoros had issued an alert on Friday warning of police activity in connection with a shooting in the city.
US government employees had been instructed to avoid the area until further notice, it said.
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 travelling through Tamaulipas, often taking passengers and demanding ransom payments,” it warned.
Despite the dangers, Matamoros, located on the banks of the Rio Grande River separating the two countries, is a major stopping point for migrants hoping to enter the United States.