Mexico City (AFP) – Nineteen passengers who were kidnapped from a bus last week in northern Mexico were migrants, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Tuesday, as investigators worked through the murky details of the case.
The men were crossing the violent state of Tamaulipas, on the US-Mexican border, on Thursday when four vehicles blocked the road and forced their bus to stop, according to authorities.
Armed men then boarded the coach and kidnapped 19 passengers whose names they had on a list.
“I can confirm that they were migrants,” Lopez Obrador said, referring to the abducted men, without specifying their nationalities.
The bus was traveling from the port of Tampico to Reynosa, a border city across from McAllen, Texas.
Although the bus driver told authorities that 19 passengers were kidnapped, investigation sources have indicated the real number of victims could be as high as 25.
The president told a news conference that one line of investigation is the possibility the men could have staged their own kidnapping as a way to drop off the radar and then enter the United States undetected.
“We are investigating to get to the bottom of this, because there’s a theory that this could be a way to get into the United States, that they didn’t actually disappear but rather crossed the border. There have already been two similar cases,” he said.
Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission, however, warned the men may have been genuinely kidnapped, and that their lives could be in danger.
“They are in a situation of vulnerability on multiple fronts that places them at extraordinary risk,” it said in a statement.
Tamaulipas is a battleground between the Zetas and Gulf drug cartels.
The kidnapping ocurred near the city of San Fernando, one of the most violent in the state. It is the same area where 72 migrants were kidnapped and murdered in 2010 by the Zetas.
Authorities say that in that case, the cartel tried to forcibly recruit the migrants, who were mostly from Central America, then killed them when they refused.
Lopez Obrador said his government was committed to stopping “horrific” incidents like the 2010 massacre.