Mexican authorities have rescued 165 migrants -- mostly Central American, some of them children and pregnant women -- who were apparently kidnapped as they tried to cross into the U.S.
The Mexican government said Thursday that the people were kidnapped by a gunman in Mexico's northeast and held captive less than a mile from the U.S. border, Reuters reports.
The victims, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -- there was also an Indian national -- were attempting to cross the border from the volatile Mexican state of Tamaulipas, Reuters says. Fourteen of the migrants were Mexican nationals, CNN adds.
Following their capture near the border, the migrants were confined in a house for weeks in the municipality of Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, according to several news reports.
"Everything indicates that these migrants were contacted by human traffickers ... and these criminals handed them over to criminal gangs instead of taking them to the border," government security spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said. "They were found kidnapped by an armed individual and held against their will in precarious, dirty, overcrowded conditions," he added. The group was rescued on Tuesday.
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In recent years, according to reports, Mexican cartels have embraced human smuggling, kidnapping migrants and extorting money from them or ordering them to bring drugs across the border.
Mexican soldiers were led to the home in Gustavo Diaz Ordaz by an anonymous tip describing people with weapons there, CNN says.
In front of the house, soldiers spotted a gunman, who tried to flee, Sanchez said. The soldiers detained suspect Juan Cortez Arrez, 20, and turned him over to prosecutors, according to CNN. In recent years, Tamaulipas has experienced many kidnappings and much violence, and it has long been the location of a turf war involving two major drug cartels, Reuters notes.
Sanchez did not identify any criminal group that could be involved and declined to respond to questions, CNN reports.
Immigrants in Mexico "face a variety of serious abuses from organized criminal gangs, including kidnappings, threats and assaults," Amnesty International reports. In 2010, Mexican Marines found the corpses of 72 people, thought to be migrant works, in a ranch near the border in Tamaulipas, according to CNN. It was reportedly the largest discovery of its kind in a violent drug war that has killed nearly 75,000 people since 2006, the news outlet reports.