The daylight kidnapping of a group of US citizens in Mexico would have been nearly impossible to prevent and highlights the dangers of crossing the southern border into territories controlled by drug cartels, retired FBI agents said Tuesday.
Two of the US citizens were killed and the other two have returned to the US.
“The big takeaway is that the border is wide open, and drug cartels are operating and controlling the border,” said former FBI Special Agent Peter Yachmetz, who was a certified hostage negotiator. “Do not go through any of these border crossings. It is a known ‘no travel zone’”.
The U.S. group was likely attacked and kidnapped by cartel gunmen in a case of mistaken identity, a law enforcement official said, and the Mexican authorities’ assumption is «that it was a mix-up, not a direct attack,» the state attorney said. .
The four US citizens drove a minivan with North Carolina license plates to Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on Friday. The group was said to have been in the country for a cosmetic procedure.
The city is just south of Brownsville, Texas.
The group was caught in the middle of gunfire after they had crossed the border, and the video showed a gunman carrying one of the Americans into the bed of a white pickup truck, then dragging and carrying the other three. Terrified civilian motorists sat quietly in their vehicles, hoping not to attract attention.
Shaeed Woodard, 33, and Zindell Brown, in her 20s, were killed, while LaTavia Washington McGee and Robert Williams, who was shot in the leg, survived the attack.
The United States ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, said Monday in a statement that an «innocent Mexican citizen was tragically murdered.»
‘Do Not Travel’ Warning
Violence is not uncommon in the state of Tamaulipas, where the US State Department. “Don’t travel” warning, summons, organized crime activity, shootings, armed robbery and kidnappings.
And while kidnappings are a threat in the area, this played out in a very different way, experts say.
“It appears that it was potentially a random act of violence. And if that’s the case, then that’s very hard to prevent,» said Toni Chrabot, a retired FBI special agent who was a certified hostage negotiator.
“It appears that the family of one of the victims may have reported the kidnapping to the FBI, but it is unclear why the group was targeted. This does not appear to have been kidnapping for ransom, and there are many unanswered questions.»
Unlike professional kidnappings
Don Aviv, president of Interfor International, a New York-based intelligence and security consulting firm that works to free people held for ransom, said kidnappings and negotiations are not usually discussed publicly.
The parties have a mutual interest in trying to avoid bad publicity, he said.
“If it gets to the point where the FBI needs to get involved, you’ve already lost. The game is lost for the safe return,” Aviv said. «When the FBI gets involved, it means someone has reported it to the FBI, it’s gotten complicated.»
More coverage of the deadly kidnapping in Mexico
Aviv said that often with «professional kidnappers, the guys who know it’s a financial transaction, everything works out.»
«If you’re dealing with hotheads, and it might not have anything to do with money… that’s when things tend not to go well,» he said. «Because it’s not about money, it’s about retribution or drug trafficking of some kind.»
The Americans were found Tuesday morning in a wooden house near a sector called La Lagunona in Matamoros, Tamaulipas Gov. Américo Villarreal said.
He said the hijackers had taken the US citizens to various locations, including a clinic, «to create confusion and disrupt the rescue work.»
A 24-year-old man from Tamaulipas «was found caring for the victims» and arrested, Villarreal said, and authorities continue to search for others involved in the deadly kidnapping.
Ken Dilanian and The Associated Press contributed.