CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico -- Gangsters unleashed mayhem in the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas, blocking major avenues, burning vehicles and engaging soldiers in shootouts that left one suspected gunman dead.
The Tamaulipas state security agency known as the Coordinating Group for the Construction of Peace in Tamaulipas said armed men carjacked civilians and also seized large trucks late Friday and used them to blockade main streets, including some leading to international border bridges, though operations at crossings were not affected.
At least three vehicles were torched while others were upended or simply abandoned, and charred cars remained on the streets Saturday waiting for authorities to remove them.
The U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo issued a security alert overnight warning its personnel to shelter in place due to the “multiple gunfights and blockades throughout the city.” On Saturday afternoon it published another alert saying its employees were “subject to restrictions on their movements and an evening curfew until further notice.”
Alberto Rodríguez Juárez of the Coordinating Group said the shootouts were the result of a confrontation with troops in which the suspected gunman was killed. Authorities seized an SUV and five firearms, including a .50-caliber rifle.
One of the gunbattles took place in a neighborhood near a Walmart, and videos that circulated on social media showed panicked people seeking shelter inside the store as shots rang out.
Friday’s incidents came on the heels of other violence in previous days after federal and state police moved 75 inmates from a Nuevo Laredo prison. In a series of shootings, six gunmen and a soldier died and some police officers were wounded.
Nuevo Laredo is territory of the Northeast cartel, a break-off of the once-dominant and bloody Zetas gang.
It’s also one of two cities in Tamaulipas where the United States has been returning thousands of asylum-seekers under the program colloquially known as “remain in Mexico” to wait in the latter country while their cases slog through U.S. courts.
The decision to expand the program to Tamaulipas alarmed observers given the lawlessness and cartel dominance in the state. The U.S. State Department has long had Tamaulipas listed for its highest-level travel alert — the same as for war-torn places like Syria and Afghanistan.