Lawmakers on Monday urged President Biden to focus as much attention on bringing home four Americans kidnapped in Mexico as he did on getting WNBA star Brittney Griner out of a Russian prison.
“If Joe Biden can trade the ‘Merchant of Death’ for Brittney Griner, he better be focusing on these four Americans ASAP,” tweeted Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican.
Mr. Biggs was one of a handful of GOP lawmakers who drew a comparison between four Americans missing since Friday and the administration’s tireless efforts to free Ms. Griner after she was detained on drug charges in Russia.
“I hope Joe Biden pays as much attention to the four U.S. citizens kidnapped at gunpoint in Mexico as he did Brittney Griner,” wrote Troy Nehls, Michigan Republican.
The lawmakers criticized Mr. Biden after the four Americans were kidnapped Friday by armed men in Mexico, the FBI said in a statement. A $50,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the victims’ return and the arrest of the culprits.
The van the Americans were traveling in came under gunfire shortly after crossing the border into the Mexican city of Matamoros in the Tamaulipas state, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas, said the FBI’s San Antonio division.
Little is known about the victims. The FBI said they were driving a white minivan with North Carolina license plates. Shortly after entering Matamoros, gunmen fired upon the vehicle’s passengers and then seized the four Americans.
“All four Americans were placed in a vehicle and taken from the scene by armed men,” according to the FBI.
Law enforcement has not yet identified the names of those who were kidnapped and their conditions are also unknown. It is also not clear why the Americans entered Mexico.
The State Department has issued a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory for U.S. citizens entering Tamaulipas because of rampant crime and kidnapping incidents there.
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said in a statement Monday that the Americans were kidnapped at gunpoint and that an “innocent” Mexican citizen died in the attack. He did not offer any additional details but said various U.S. justice agencies were working with their Mexican counterparts to recover the missing U.S. citizens.
Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said Monday that the Americans had crossed the border to buy medicine and ended up caught in the crossfire between two armed groups.
Matamoros is home to warring factions of the Gulf drug cartel and shootouts there on Friday were so bad that the U.S. Consulate issued an alert about the danger and local authorities warned people to shelter in place. It was not immediately clear how the abductions could have been connected to that violence Friday.
Tamaulipas state police said people had been killed and injured Friday, but did not say how many. The state police said that neither police nor the military were involved in Friday’s shootouts.
“There have been two armed incidents between unidentified civilians,” the state police said Friday on social media. “The exact number of the fallen is being corroborated.”
Victims of violence in Matamoros and other large border cities of Tamaulipas often go uncounted, because the cartels have a history of taking bodies of their own with them. Local media often avoid reporting on such incidents out of safety concerns, creating an information vacuum.
A video posted to social media Friday showed armed men loading two bodies into a truck in broad daylight.
Photographs from the scene viewed by the Associated Press show a white minivan with the driver’s side window shot out and all of the doors open sitting on the side of the road after apparently colliding with a red SUV. Multiple people were lying in the street beside it surrounded by rifle-toting gunmen.
Their positions appeared to correspond with the video posted online that was taken from another angle, which showed them being dragged across the street and loaded into the bed of a white pickup. One person who was sitting up in the street walked under their own power to the pickup. At least one other appeared to lift his head from the pavement before being dragged to the truck.
The U.S. State Department’s travel warning for Tamaulipas state warns U.S. citizens not to travel there. However, being a border city, U.S. citizens who live in Brownsville or elsewhere in Texas frequently cross to visit family, attend medical appointments or shop. It would also be a crossing point for people traveling deeper into Mexico.
For years, a night out in Matamoros was also part of the “two-nation vacation” for spring breakers flocking to Texas’ South Padre Island. But increased violence there over the past 10 to 15 years frightened away much of that business.
The FBI said the van the victims were driving Friday carried North Carolina license plates, but authorities provided no other details about who they were or where they were from.
• This story is based in part on wire service reports.