Two of the four US citizens kidnapped after crossing over the border into northeastern Mexico have been found dead, a senior Mexican official has said.
Of the four abductees, “two of them are dead, one person is injured and the other is alive”, Tamaulipas state governor Americo Villarreal told the Mexican president by telephone at a news conference on Tuesday.
Keep readinglist of 3 items
Officials later said the two killed abductees were men, as was the injured individual. A woman who had been traveling in the group was reportedly unharmed.
The White House denounced the kidnappings and offered condolences to families of the victims on Tuesday.
“We’re going to work closely with the Mexican government to ensure that justice is done in this case,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby said.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland, meanwhile, said, “The cartels are responsible for the deaths of Americans”.
“The DEA [US Drug Enforcement Administration] and the FBI [Federal Bureau of Investigations] are doing everything possible to dismantle and disrupt and ultimately prosecute the leaders of the cartels and the entire networks that they depend on.”
Tamaulipas’s Attorney General Irving Barrios said on Twitter later in the day that the two surviving Americans had been handed over to US officials at the border with Texas.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said one person was in custody in relation to the kidnappings, which took place in what has long been one of the most violent states in Mexico.
The four US citizens, identified by family as residents of North Carolina, had crossed from Texas into Matamoros, Mexico, on Friday, when their white minivan was fired upon in what authorities said was the crossfire of rival cartel groups.
A video later emerged showing the four hostages loaded into the back of a pick-up truck by armed men. Mexican officials said a Mexican woman was also killed in Friday’s crossfire.
The US Embassy in Mexico issued a security warning for Matamoros on Friday, saying it was “classified as Level 4: Do Not Travel”.
López Obrador had previously said that the victims were believed to have entered the country to buy medicine before they were inadvertently caught up in the violence.
“We’re very sorry that this is happening in our country,” the Mexican president told reporters after the confirmation of the deaths.
“We send our condolences to the families of the victims, to friends, to the people of the United States, to the US government,” he added.
The city of Matamoros is dominated by factions of the powerful Gulf drug cartel who often fight among themselves.
Amid the violence, thousands of Mexicans have disappeared in the state of Tamaulipas alone, adding to the more than 100,000 people reported missing in the country in recent decades. The vast majority of the disappearances occurred after 2007, when Mexico’s government launched a militarised crackdown on drug cartels.
Despite the response, violence has persisted, with cartels jockeying for control of large swathes of the country. At least 340,000 people have been murdered since the government deployed the military in its so-called “war on drugs”.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation had previously offered a $50,000 reward “for the return of the victims and the arrest of those involved”.