Four U.S. citizens werein a brazen attack carried out by multiple gunmen in the northern Mexico border city of Matamoros, the FBI said.
U.S. officials confirmed on Monday that a Mexican citizen was killed in the incident.
The Americans traveled to Matamoros, in Tamaulipas state, across from Brownsville, Texas, on Friday 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 now offering a $50,000 reward for the return of the victims and the arrest of the culprits.
Here is what we know so far about the case.
What footage and photos from the scene show
A video posted on Twitter on Friday appears to show the moment the Americans were kidnapped, CBS News correspondent Christina Ruffini reports.
In the video, one woman is forced by men armed with guns to climb into the bed of a white pickup truck. The men then proceed to drag two people into the vehicle.
The first woman is walking and sits in the back of the truck; the other two people seem to be unresponsive, but their condition is unknown. The video appears to show some of them may be wounded.
Photographs from the scene viewed by the AP show a white minivan with the driver’s side window shot and all of the doors open. The van sits on the side of the road after apparently colliding with a red SUV. The photos show people lying in the street next to the van surrounded by rifle-toting men.
The photos seem to match the video posted online, which was taken from another angle.
What U.S. officials have said about the incident
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said in a statement Monday that the Americans were kidnapped at gunpoint and that an “innocent” Mexican citizen died in the attack. He did not offer any additional details, but said various U.S. law enforcement agencies were working with their Mexican counterparts to recover the missing U.S. citizens.
President Biden was informed about the situation, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. She declined to answer other questions, citing privacy concerns.
What were the Americans doing in Matamoros
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday that the Americans had crossed the border to buy medicine and ended up caught in the crossfire between two armed groups.
The FBI said the van the victims were driving Friday carried North Carolina license plates, but authorities provided no other details about who they were or where they were from.
The U.S. State Department’s travel warning for Tamaulipas state warns U.S. citizens not to travel there. However, being a border city, U.S. citizens who live in Brownsville or elsewhere in Texas frequently cross to visit family, get medical care or shop. It’s also a crossing point for people traveling to other parts in Mexico.
For years, a night out in Matamoros was also part of the “two-nation vacation” for spring breakers flocking to Texas’ South Padre Island.
But increased cartel violence over the past 10 to 15 years has frightened away much of that business.
What is behind the violence in Tamaulipas
Matamoros is home to warring cartel factions. On Friday the U.S. Consulate issued an alert about a shooting and local authorities warned people to shelter in place. The alert also reminded U.S. citizens that this particular part of Mexico is a “Level 4: Do Not Travel,” which is the highest warning in the U.S. State Department’s travel advisory system.
The consulate in Matamoros has posted at least four security alerts since February 2020, warning of drug cartel violence, crime, kidnappings and clashes involving armed groups.
Three U.S. siblings disappeared near Matamoros in October 2014 and were later found shot and burned. They had disappeared two weeks earlier while visiting their father in Mexico. Their parents said they had been abducted by men dressed in police uniforms identifying themselves as “Hercules,” a tactical security unit in the violent border city.
Victims of violence in Matamoros and other large border cities of Tamaulipas often go uncounted, because the cartels have a history of disappearing the bodies of their victims. Local media often avoid reporting on such incidents out of safety concerns.