Suspected drug cartel members on Thursday handed over five purported henchmen as a would-be apology for the abduction of four Americans in the border city of Matamoros, according to media and a source familiar with the investigation.
Two of the Americans and a Mexican woman died after gunmen opened fire on the US citizens shortly after their arrival in Matamoros on Friday. The four Americans were found on Monday on the edge of the city, by which time two of them were dead.
Mexican officials gave the bodies of the two dead men, identified as Shaeed Woodard and Zindell Brown, to US officials in Matamoros on Thursday afternoon, and they were taken across the border into the US, a Reuters witness said.
An internal government document seen by Reuters indicated that a faction of Mexico's Gulf Cartel was likely responsible for the kidnappings and that the gunmen may have believed that the Americans were encroaching on the gang's turf.
Mexican newspapers and social media published photos of a letter attributed to a different faction of the cartel in which it apologised for the events in Matamoros, and said it was handing over five men who were involved in the kidnappings.
The letter was left alongside five men with their hands tied in Matamoros, the photos showed. The Mexican source familiar with the investigation confirmed the handover, expressing skepticism the five were the ones responsible for the attack.
The attorney general's office of Tamaulipas, the state where Matamoros lies, declined to comment on the reports.
Separately, the state attorney general's office said its investigation indicated that the Americans were taken by their kidnappers to a clinic where they were given medical attention.
The Mexican source said the evidence suggested Woodard and Brown had probably died from injuries they suffered during the attack by the gunmen in Matamoros on Friday. Their two surviving companions returned to the US earlier this week.
Tamaulipas' attorney general said on Monday the abduction of the four was likely a case of mistaken identity, but authorities have yet to clearly set out the reasons for the attack.