Four U.S. citizens were assaulted and kidnapped by armed gunmen in northeastern Mexico, and two of them have been killed, officials said Tuesday.
In a statement released through the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, the FBI said the kidnapping occurred in the city of Matamoros, located in the state of Tamaulipas on the U.S.-Mexico border across from Brownsville, Texas.
The Americans reportedly crossed into Mexico on March 3, driving a white minivan with North Carolina license plates. "Shortly after crossing into Mexico, unidentified gunmen fired upon the passengers in the vehicle," the FBI said, adding that the four Americans "were placed in a vehicle and taken from the scene by armed men." CBS News reported that a post on Twitter appeared to show the moment of the kidnapping.
Mexican authorities later confirmed that two of the Americans had been found dead, with the other two being transported back to U.S. soil. The group had gone to Matamoros to have plastic surgery, per The New York Times
Matamoros is home to numerous warring factions of the Mexican drug cartels. Shootouts in the city became so bad over the weekend, The Associated Press noted, that "the U.S. Consulate issued an alert about the danger and local authorities warned people to shelter in place." AP added that violence often goes unaccounted for in Matamoros because cartel members take their victims with them.
The city has long been the base of operations for the Gulf Cartel, described by CNN as "a once-powerful smuggling operation that has splintered into small, competing gangs."
Tamaulipas is one of six Mexican states that the U.S. State Department has issued a 'Do Not Travel' advisory for because of its "organized crime activity — including gun battles, murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, forced disappearances, extortion, and sexual assault."