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The letter claims that the cartel handed over the people who killed the Americans | Main stories


CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico (AP) — A letter claiming to be from a Mexican drug cartel accused of the kidnapping of four Americans and the killing of two of them condemned the violence and said the gang had turned over its members who were responsible to the authorities.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press through law enforcement in the state of Tamaulipas, the Scorpions faction of the Gulf Cartel apologized to the residents of Matamoras, where the Americans were kidnapped, to a Mexican woman who died in a cartel shootout, and to four Americans and their families.

“We have decided to transfer those who were directly involved and responsible for the events, who at all times acted according to their own decisions and lack of discipline,” the letter said, adding that these individuals went against the rules of the cartel, which include “respect for life and the welfare of the innocent.”

Drug cartels have been known to issue communiques to intimidate rivals and authorities, but also at times when public relations are trying to smooth over situations that could affect their business. And last Friday’s violence in Matamoras was bad for cartel business.

The killings of the Americans have led to patrols by National Guard troops and army special forces who are “heating up the area” in narcotics terminology, said David Saucedo, a Mexican security analyst.

“Now it’s very difficult for them to continue to operate in terms of street drug sales and drug trafficking into the United States; they are the first to have an interest in closing this chapter as soon as possible,” Saucedo said.

A photo of the five bound men face down on the sidewalk accompanied the letter, which the source shared with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to release the document.

State officials did not immediately publicly confirm the new suspects in custody.

A separate state security official said five men were found tied up inside one of the cars authorities were searching for, along with a letter. That official also spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the case.

A cousin of one of the victims said his family feels “great” knowing Eric Williams, who was shot in the left leg, is alive, but won’t accept any apology from the cartel accused of kidnapping Americans.

“It’s not going to change anything about the suffering we’ve been through,” Jerry Wallace told The Associated Press on Thursday. Wallace, 62, called on the US and Mexican governments to do a better job of tackling cartel violence.

Last Friday, four Americans came to Matamoras from Texas so that one of them could get cosmetic surgery. Around noon, they were shot in downtown Matamoras and then loaded into a pickup truck. 33-year-old Mexican woman Oreli Pablo Servando was also killed, apparently by a stray bullet.

Another friend left in Brownsville, called the police after being unable to reach the group that crossed the border on Friday morning.

Brownsville Police Department spokesman Martin Sandoval said Thursday that officers followed protocol by checking local hospitals and jails after receiving reports of missing persons. A detective was assigned to the case within an hour and then alerted the FBI after realizing the men had crossed into Mexico. Shortly after the videos started appearing on social media, the FBI took over the case show a shootout with victims matching the description of the missing persons.

Authorities discovered them Tuesday morning on the outskirts of the city under the protection of an arrested man. Zindell Brown and Shaid Woodard died in the attack; Williams and Latavia McGee survive.

On Thursday, two hearses carrying the bodies of Woodard and Brown crossed the International Bridge into Brownsville, where the remains were turned over to US authorities.

Woodard’s cousin, McGee, surprised him with the fatal birthday trip, according to his father, James Woodard. He said he was speechless when he heard the cartel had apologized for the violent kidnapping that killed his son and was captured on video that quickly went viral online.

“Just being helpless — not being able to do anything, not being able to go out there and just save them — it’s very painful,” James Woodard said.

Thursday’s letter was not an unheard-of cartel tactic.

The cartels’ public relations efforts are well known in Mexico. In contested territory, one cartel might hang banners around town blaming a rival for recent violence and promoting itself as a gang that doesn’t mess with civilians.

Last November, such banners appeared around the state of Guanajuato, allegedly written by the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which blamed a rival for a series of killings in bars and other businesses.

In other situations, the message is more overt: bodies are left in a car with a note or hung from a highway overpass on a busy road. The motivation is terror.

More subtly, the cartels use their power to plant stories in the local press or to prevent them from appearing. Their members are active on social networks.

Their main interest is in facilitating their business, be it drug and migrant smuggling or extortion.

Sometimes a cartel shoots into its competitor’s territory in hopes of provoking a law enforcement response and making it harder for its opponent to do business. That’s what happened two years ago in Reynosa, near the border with Matamoros. Gunmen stormed the town and killed 14 innocent bystanders.

Handing over alleged cartel suspects to the police is also not without precedent. A neighbor warned that a cartel leader might have authorized the attack, then regretted it and decided to offer the police sacrificial lambs.

In 2008, drug traffickers in Michoacán threw hand grenades into a crowd celebrating Mexican independence, killing eight people. A few days later, authorities arrested the three suspects, only to find that they had been kidnapped by a cartel, beaten into confessing to a rival gang, and handed over to the police.

Meanwhile, Tamaulipas state prosecutors said Thursday they had seized an ambulance and a medical clinic in Matamoras believed to have been used to treat the Americans after the shooting.

The Americans told investigators they were taken to the clinic by ambulance for first aid, the statement said. After reviewing police surveillance video in the city, authorities were able to identify the ambulance and locate the clinic. According to the statement, there were no arrests at the clinic.


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