The abduction of 15 individuals from a bus traveling between Mexico’s northeastern states of Tamaulipas and Coahuila highlights insecurity in Mexico’s border states, and recalls previous episodes of mass kidnappings of migrants as immigration into the United States surges.
The incident, which occurred on September 12, was not confirmed until September 14 by Coahuila’s state secretary, Victor Zamora, according to Animal Politico.
Minutes after leaving the bus station in the city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, which sits near the Coahuila border, the bus was intercepted by armed men, the driver told officials. The 15 individuals were forced off the bus, loaded into various vehicles, and driven away.
It is believed the bus was carrying migrants who were traveling to Coahuila in order to find human smugglers, known as “coyotes,” to take them across the border. However, this has not been confirmed, according to El Pais.
The driver, employed by bus company Transportes Frontera (Border Transit), was reluctant to report the incident after receiving threats from the gunmen. Out of fear for his life, he declined to describe the faces of the kidnappers or their vehicles, reported Animal Politico.
While the bus driver reported the incident to Coahuila officials, representatives from Coahuila’s state government said the kidnapping occurred in Tamaulipas. However, Tamaulipas’ Attorney General’s Office has denied the kidnapping took place in its territory, reported Animal Politico.
Although unconfirmed whether the kidnapped travelers were migrants, it remains a strong possibility. For years, kidnappings of migrants has been a common occurrence in Tamaulipas — which has some of the highest missing person rates in Mexico — where they are extorted, held for ransom, forced to transport drugs, or even killed by criminal groups. Additionally, recent reports indicate kidnappings of migrants by crime groups in Mexico could be on the rise.
In March, for instance, 24 Honduran migrants were kidnapped in Altamira, Tamaulipas while traveling aboard a bus, though they were soon rescued by a security operation. San Fernando, Tamaulipas is also where, in 2010, 72 migrants were infamously massacred by gunmen on a ranch.
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This most recent kidnapping comes as US Border Patrol statistics show that, for the second time in three years, the agency is apprehending more non-Mexican than Mexican migrants along the southwest border. This is largely due to continued heightened migrant flows out of Central America as people look to flee poverty and violence.
According to the Texas Tribune, the majority of these migrants are seeking to cross in the Rio Grande Valley along Texas’ southernmost tip, where Tamaulipas and Coahuila are located. This area is contested by the Gulf Cartel and Zetas, with both groups having been known to target migrants as a source of revenue.