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FLASH ALERT: FOUR U.S. CITIZENS KIDNAPPED IN MEXICO, CONSTANT THREAT OF GANG VIOLENCE

Lydia Baccino, Giulia Provenza, Jehanne Pocquet, Oscar Mackay, Gabriel Helupka,

Emma McCusker, and Michael Grimaldi

Álvaro Picón, Cameron Munoz, Editors; Jennifer Loy, Chief Editor

March 7, 2023


A map displaying the US-Mexico Border[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT to US citizens following the kidnapping of four US citizens by multiple gunmen in the northern Mexico border city of Matamoros. The four Americans traveled to Matamoros on Friday in a white minivan and were attacked shortly after entering Mexico. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) San Antonio’s Division Office confirmed that all four Americans were placed in a secondary vehicle, a white pick-up truck, and taken away from the scene by armed men. The US Ambassador confirmed this in a statement released which also stated that a Mexican citizen, who is deemed innocent, has also died. On March 7, 2023, the Governor of Tamaulipas reported that two victims were found dead while another was found wounded and the other unharmed.


Video footage shows that some of the victims appear unresponsive and wounded after the footage was taken following a collision with a red SUV. The FBI offered a reward of 50,000 for retrieving the victims and capturing the abductors.[2]


CTG is on HIGH alert for the safety of US citizens and the unpredictable course of events that could result from this kidnapping. To prevent a significant cross-border problem between the two nations, Mexican authorities will prioritize this investigation. The current motive for this attack is unknown, but law enforcement will be investigating this attack for all possible motives. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) will VERY LIKELY be included in the investigation due to the LIKELY involvement of drug cartels in the kidnappings. The alert for this part of Mexico will ALMOST CERTAINLY remain “Level 4: Do Not Travel" for US citizens.


On March 3, 2023, four US citizens in Matamoros were kidnapped in broad daylight after their white minivan came under fire by multiple gunmen. The four Americans were placed in the back of a white pick-up truck and driven away from the scene. The US Ambassador confirmed the incident and also stated an innocent Mexican citizen died in the attack. Footage reportedly showed three of the victims as wounded or unresponsive. On March 7, the Governor of Tamaulipas reported alongside the President of Mexico that two victims were found dead while another was found wounded and the other unharmed. The victims include Latavia “Tay” McGee, Shaeed Woodard, Zindell Brown, and Eric James Williams. Of these, Brown and Woodard did not survive their injuries.[3] Following the attack, local authorities advised people to shelter in place, and the local US Consulate issued an alert for US citizens to avoid the area. Various US justice agencies are working with their Mexican counterparts, and both Presidents have been briefed.[4] The task force that will be leading the investigation is the OCDETF. This task force houses a combination of experts from its member federal agencies including FBI, DEA, ATF, IRS, the US Marshals Service, and the US Coast Guard, along with national and state law enforcement.[5]


Tamaulipas has been subject to mass violence as a result of factional war with the Gulf Cartel.On Friday, Tamaulipas state police reported shootouts that resulted in the injuries and deaths of some involved, but details were not released. Many victims of violence in the region go unreported due to fears of retaliation by cartels. The US Consulate and the US State Department have been warned that Tamaulipas is listed as a Level 4: Do Not Travel,[6] due to the high risk of crime and kidnapping.[7]


Although the identity and motives of the kidnappers are unknown, the incident likely involved one or more drug cartels. Matamoros is a base of operation for various cartels, including the Gulf Cartel’s (CDG) local factions (The Cyclones and The Scorpions) and CDG’s rival, The Zetas (notably The Northeast Cartel fragmentation). The Cyclones control the border crossing between Matamoros and Brownsville, Texas, including the flow of drugs, weapons, and contraband. Power struggles and violent conflicts between The Northeast Cartel and The Cyclones have taken place in the last few years in an attempt for both sides to gain control of Matamoros territory.[8] Conflicts between CDG’s factions have also led to violent confrontations in Matamoros, and Tamaulipas state, leading to thousands of disappearances.[9]


Mexico will likely face increased pressure from the US to combat violence and drug cartels in the region. Violent actions will likely increase in this area, along with drug trafficking. Conflicts between drug cartels in the region will very likely harm (both physically and mentally) local communities and foreigners. Drug cartels will very likely continue to use fear as a means to control territory.

Border security will very likely increase on both sides to prevent the illegal entry of criminals who represent a threat to national security. US citizens in neighboring communities near the US-Mexico border will very likely call for stricter border control from the US Border Patrol and local law enforcement. Mexican citizens will likely seek relocation to the US-Mexico border following increased cartel violence.

CTG recommends that individuals avoid the area. CTG advises that individuals visiting the area remain vigilant and maintain situational awareness. Tourists will very likely encounter a violent environment and will likely get caught in the crossfire of warring cartels in the city, likely resulting in civilian fatalities, injuries, or disruption to daily activities. Local law enforcement and military personnel should remain on high alert for continued violence in the area and maintain an increased physical security presence. Routine patrolling of these areas with security checkpoints should be established to screen for possible violent threats. The Mexican government will very likely take steps to improve security in the affected area by increasing the presence of law enforcement and military personnel. Strengthening the local security posture will likely help in long-term deterrence or reduction of violence in Matamoros. CTG’s NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM teams will continue to monitor the events close to the border for any new developments and any ongoing or future threats. CTG recommends increased communication and cooperation between US and Mexican authorities to ensure local population safety and the longstanding economic and political relationship between the two countries. CTG will monitor the situation and assess the security risks in this particular area, by creating travel security reports. These will help provide actionable and valuable information, and practical advice on safety concerns for travelers.


CTG assesses that the current threat climate is HIGH due to the threat posed by the warring cartels in Matamoros and will remain at a Level 4: Do Not Travel as issued by the US State Department. The violence here is not targeted purely at rival gang members and appears opportunistic and unpredictable. The proximity of 3.1 miles from Matamoros to the US border means the violence very likely threatens American border settlements that may be vulnerable to kidnappings or skirmishes in the area. This is likely because American and local Mexican citizens could be used as opportunistic targets for cartels and gangs wishing to collect ransoms. Cartels and gangs are likely to target American and local Mexican citizens to rob or extort them to finance their illicit operations. The threats are pressing and concerning. These acts of violence will very likely continue, especially against the local population, while the in-fighting continues.


Analysis indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY that violence will ensue in this region given its history with drug cartels and violent attacks. It is VERY LIKELY that further kidnapping could happen for ransom purposes, with US and Mexican citizens being vulnerable to these attacks. The unpredictability of this region and the behavior of drug cartels makes it VERY LIKELY to remain a Level 4: Do Not Travel.

 

[1] Matamoros by Google Maps

[2] 4 Americans missing after they were kidnapped in Mexican border city, FBI says, CBS News, March 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/missing-americans-mexico-4-feared-kidnapped-matamoros-mexico/

[3] Two of Americans Kidnapped in Mexico are alive, two dead, Reuters, March 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/us/two-americans-kidnapped-mexico-are-alive-two-dead-2023-03-07/

[4] What we know about the 4 Americans kidnapped in Mexico, AP News, March 2023, https://apnews.com/article/mexico-americans-kidnapped-gulf-drug-cartel-2700637729e8f3a5065005231aa8d4d3

[5] Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, US Department of Justice, March 2023, https://www.justice.gov/ocdetf/about-ocdetf

[6] Alert: U.S. Consulate General Matamoros, Mexico (March 3, 2023), US Embassy & Consulates in Mexico, March 2023, https://mx.usembassy.gov/alert-u-s-consulate-general-matamoros-mexico-march-3-2023/

[8] Cyclones, Scorpions and Old School Killers - The War for Tamaulipas, InSight Crime, October 2021, https://insightcrime.org/news/cyclones-scorpions-old-school-killers-war-tamaulipas/

[9] 'I just want a bone': Mexico's search for 95,000 missing, France24, November 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20211129-i-just-want-a-bone-mexico-s-search-for-95-000-missing

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