FEBRUARY 06, 2008
Violent Mexican kidnapping operations that federal agents say are similar to terrorist cells are targeting a growing number of United States citizens visiting towns popular among residents of border states such as California.
The sophisticated cells are well-financed and organized, with a boss and clear divisions of labor. Usually one group does the scouting and another carries out the abduction while a third keeps the victim and a fourth handles the ransom.
Last year alone, at least 26 San Diego County residents were kidnapped and held for ransom just miles from the U.S. border in the Mexican towns of Tijuana, Rosarito Beach and Ensenada. The FBI says many victims get beaten, tortured or raped and some are murdered.
The situation has gotten so bad that the U.S. Consulate in Tijuana issued a travel advisory last week warning U.S. citizens living and traveling in Mexico to be extra vigilant, especially since kidnappers often pose as police officers.
The abductions are part of a drastic increase in violence along the U.S.-Mexico border, which is infested with armed drug cartels and human smugglers plowing their way north. Just last month Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff confirmed that U.S. Border Patrol agents are regularly under siege by smugglers and he assured the violence will definitely increase this year.
Chertoff made the alarming announcement days after a 32-year-old Border Patrol agent was murdered by Mexican smugglers who deliberately struck him with a sports utility vehicle. The agent, Luis Aguilar, tried to stop the vehicle as it sped through California’s Imperial San Dunes Recreation Area.
Chertoff called it a heinous act of violence and revealed that assaults on Border Patrol agents had increased 44% in the last few months. The Homeland Security secretary said agents are regularly attacked with firearms, knives, bats, steel pipes, vehicles, boats and slingshots.
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