Mexico arrests soldiers after “executions” of 5 men near Texas border
Soldiers wanted in the killing of five civilians in Mexico last month were arrested Wednesday, the country’s president said, after video images of the alleged “executions” were made public.

A Spanish newspaper and a U.S. broadcaster published surveillance footage of five men being beaten and shot in the northwestern city of Nuevo Laredo near the U.S. border in a region hard hit by criminal violence.

“There seem to have been executions and this cannot be allowed,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said at his daily press briefing. The suspects are under arrest, he added.

El Pais and Univision published footage of an incident on May 18 in which soldiers apparently beat and shot at a group of men on a roadside.

The footage starts with a pickup truck, apparently involved in a chase, crashing into a perimeter wall at high speed. An armored car with a roof-mounted machine gun then bashes into the side of the truck.

A dozen soldiers surround the stricken vehicle before pulling out five men. The soldiers then kick and beat the men, who are tied up and pulled along the ground.

The soldiers are seen returning fire after appearing to come under attack from shooters who cannot be seen in the footage. One soldier is then seen shooting at the five. Four of them died at the scene, according to Univision.

An ambulance arrived an hour later for the fifth man, but he died on his way to the hospital, the broadcaster added.

Officials said in a news release that Mexican prosecutors and the military are investigating.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an associate professor at George Mason University who studies the border, told the AP the soldiers were apparently trying to alter the crime scene to make it look like there had been an armed confrontation.

“It seems that the intention was to leave these bodies with weapons to make it look like a confrontation between armed groups of civilians, as has happened before,” said Correa-Cabrera.

The killings appear to call into question López Obrador’s strategy of relying almost exclusively on the military for law enforcement.

“It is clear that the armed forces have been participating in security in this city, and also that this city has never been made safe,” she said. “As long as we have soldiers doing (law enforcement) duties in the streets, this is going to keep happening.”

The incident would be at least the second case of apparently extrajudicial killings in Nuevo Laredo this year. On Feb. 26, soldiers killed five young men who were riding inside a vehicle.

Soldiers guard a crime scene where five men were killed following a chase, in Nuevo Laredo
Mexican soldiers keep watch at a crime scene where five men were killed following a chase by federal forces, in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, May 18, 2023. JASIEL RUBIO/REUTERS

The men were apparently unarmed and in a report, Mexico’s governmental human rights agency said the soldiers had fired into the vehicle without giving verbal orders for it to stop. Angry neighbors attacked the soldiers, beating some of them.

In April, federal prosecutors charged four soldiers involved with homicide.

That same month, a human rights organization in Nuevo Laredo sent a formal complaint to López Obrador. In it, a man said Mexican National Guard troops had fired on his vehicle in Nuevo Laredo, killing his pregnant 15-year-old girlfriend and a 54-year-old friend, and wounding two others. A law enforcement crime-scene report on the incident largely corroborated the account of the shooting contained in the complaint.

López Obrador claims the army has changed and has tried to depict incidents like the most recent killings as isolated acts by bad soldiers, but that doesn’t convince many.

“This does not look like an error,” said Correa-Cabrera. “Here, this looks very organized.”

Nuevo Laredo is a city dominated by the Northeast drug cartel, and shootouts between cartel gunmen and soldiers or rival gangs are common.

In December, seven suspected cartel gunmen and one soldier were killed in a shootout between the army and gang members in Nuevo Laredo.

In March 2022, the U.S. authorized the departure of families and some consulate personnel after drug cartel gunmen fired at the U.S. consulate building in Nuevo Laredo. At the time, the U.S. State Department also advised American citizens not to travel to Tamaulipas, the state where Nuevo Laredo is located, citing crime and safety concerns.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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