The four U.S. citizens who were kidnapped on Friday got caught in an ongoing feud between Gulf Cartel factions battling over drug smuggling territories in Tamaulipas, sources say.
Two of the four victims died and two were rescued from the kidnapping reported on Friday in Matamoros, the Tamaulipas governor, Americo Villarreal, said in a press conference on Tuesday.
Armed men were seen in an online video dragging three visibly injured men onto the back of a pick-up truck which a woman was also forced to board.
According to the governor, the four were taken to multiple locations, including a clinic, to complicate the investigation.
The FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of State worked with their Mexican counterparts to locate the victims.
“Earlier today, the FBI was notified that Mexican authorities had located the four missing American victims who were kidnapped on March 3 in Matamoros, Mexico,” the FBI said in a released statement on Tuesday.
The discovery was made on Tuesday morning when authorities found the four victims stashed in a wooden house guarded by a man only identified as Jose “N,” according to the Tamaulipas governor.
The man who was guarding the stash house was arrested and the victims were taken to a medical facility for evaluation in Tamaulipas. Around 11 a.m., the victims were sent via ambulance across the Veterans International Bridge where Brownsville ambulances took them to Valley Regional Medical Center.
The woman who survived the attack was physically unharmed, the governor said, but the man who was taken to the hospital was injured with a gunshot wound in his leg, the Tamaulipas governor said.
“The FBI is saddened to report that two of the victims are deceased. We would like to express our heartfelt condolences and sympathies to the families and loved ones of the victims in this tragic event,” the statement from the FBI continued. “This is still an ongoing criminal investigation and the FBI will continue to work with DoS, HSI, DEA, and other federal and international partners to determine the facts of what happened and to hold those responsible for this horrific and violent attack accountable for their crimes.”
If they wanted to go after Americans, you have over a million Americans traveling every year to Mexico and none of those people are targeted.
Tamaulipas is still an area the Department of State urges U.S. citizens not to visit due to crime and kidnappings. However, the bold attack on the victims came as a surprise to some, including former FBI agent Arturo Fontes.
“It is surprising right now at this moment for Americans that were kidnapped with license plates in North Carolina — yes. It definitely is surprising, especially in this climate,” Fontes said. “Even though these people were Americans, Americans are normally not the targets.”
Fontes is a retired FBI agent who is currently working as a security consultant and CEO for Fontes International Solutions.
Fontes said tensions are high in Tamaulipas after the leader of the Reynosa Gulf Cartel faction heightened the battle for drug smuggling territory.
“He’s brazen, more aggressive, or hawkish, and wanting to run and encroach on the cartel in Matamoros,” Fontes said of the Reynosa faction. As a response, Matamoros increased their security, Fontes explained.
“I believe that this was a case of mistaken identity that they believe that they were Haitian smugglers,” Fontes said of the Matamoros faction. “If they wanted to go after Americans, you have over a million Americans traveling every year to Mexico and none of those people are targeted.”
Cartels will make agreements to work with other cartels to move people, drugs and money through their routes, but a perceived incursion can yield fatal consequences, Fontes explained.
“And that’s why when these people came in, they believed that they were Haitian smugglers and … were not paying the fees to do this and they were doing it without permission or with another cartel. And I believe that that’s one of the reasons why these guys were picked up,” Fontes said of the victims.
Timing sparks other concerns, Fontes said.
“It definitely is surprising, especially in this climate,” Fontes added. “It’s before Spring Break and during a time when our government wants to label these drug traffickers close to terrorism, terrorists.”