Gunmen kidnapped four American citizens who entered the Mexico from Texas last week to buy medicine but was caught up in a shootout that killed at least one Mexican national, U.S. and Mexican officials said Monday.

The four were in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates. They came under fire on Friday shortly after entering the city Matamoros from Brownsville, the southernmost tip of Texas near the Gulf Coast, the FBI’s San Antonio Division office said in a statement Sunday.

“All four Americans were placed in a vehicle and taken from the scene by armed men,” the office said. The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for the return of the victims and the arrest of the kidnappers.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Monday that the four were going to buy medicine, “it was a confrontation between groups and they were arrested,” without giving details.

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A woman driving in Matamoros witnessed what appeared to be the shooting and abduction. She asked not to be identified for fear of reprisal.

The scene illustrates the terror that has reigned for years in Matamoros, a city dominated by factions of the Gulf cartel that often fight among themselves. Amid the violence, thousands of Mexicans have disappeared right in the state of Tamaulipas, where Matamoros is located.

Gunmen kidnapped four US citizens who crossed into Mexico from Texas last week to buy medicine and were caught in a shootout.

Associated Press

The woman said she saw the white minivan hit by another vehicle near an intersection, then heard gunfire.

Another SUV rolled up and several gunmen jumped out.

“Suddenly they (the gunmen) were in front of us,” she said. “I went into a state of shock, nobody honked, nobody moved. Everyone must have thought the same thing, ‘if we move they will see us, otherwise they might shoot us.’

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She said the gunmen forced a woman, who could walk, into the back of a pickup truck. Another person was carried to the truck by gunmen but could still move his head.

“The other two they dragged across the pavement, we don’t know if they were alive or dead,” she said.

Mexican authorities arrived minutes later.

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A video posted on social media on Friday shows men with assault rifles and tan body armor loading the four people into the bed of a pickup truck in broad daylight. One was alive and sitting up, but the others appeared to be either dead or wounded.

Shootings in Matamoros on Friday were so serious that the US consulate issued a danger alert and local authorities warned people to take shelter in place. It was not immediately clear how the abductions might have been connected to that violence on Friday.

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US Ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar said in a statement on Monday that the Americans were kidnapped at gunpoint and that an “innocent” Mexican citizen died in the attack. He said various US justice agencies were working with their Mexican counterparts to recover the missing. Authorities have not released any other information about who the victims were or where they came from.

President Joe Biden had been briefed on the situation, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. She declined to answer other questions, citing privacy concerns.

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Tamaulipas state police said people had been killed and injured Friday, but not how many. State police said on social media that neither law enforcement nor the military were involved in “two armed incidents between unidentified civilians.”

Victims of violence in Matamoros and other major border cities in Tamaulipas often go uncounted, as the cartels have a history of taking their own bodies. Local media often avoid reporting such incidents for security reasons, creating an information vacuum.

Photographs from the scene seen by The Associated Press show a white minivan with the driver’s side window rolled out and all doors open, sitting on the side of the road after colliding with the red SUV. Several people were lying in the street next to it surrounded by gunmen firing rifles.

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Their positions appeared to match the video posted online, taken from a different angle, which showed them being dragged across the street and loaded into the bed of a white pickup truck. A person who was sitting on the street walks under his own power to the pickup truck. At least one other appeared to lift his head from the pavement before being dragged to the truck.

Tamaulipas state’s many border crossings with Texas make it lucrative for the cartels that move drugs, migrants and weapons between Mexico and the US

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The State Department’s travel advisory for Tamaulipas warns US citizens not to travel there. But because it’s a border town, American citizens living in Brownsville or anywhere else in Texas often go to visit family, make medical appointments, or shop. It would also be a transition point for people traveling deeper into Mexico.

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Previously, as the headquarters of the powerful golf cartel, Matamoros was relatively quiet. For years, a night out in Matamoros was also part of the “bi-nation vacation” for springbreakers who flocked to Texas’ South Padre Island.

But increased cartel violence over the past 10 to 15 years scared away much of that business. Sometimes American citizens are swept up in the violence.

Three American siblings disappeared near Matamoros in October 2014 and were later found shot to death and burned. They had disappeared two weeks earlier while visiting their father in Mexico. Their parents said they had been abducted by men dressed in police gear who identified themselves as “Hercules”, a tactical security unit in the violent border town.

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