MEXICO CITY -- Mexico’s Defense Department said Wednesday it will investigate about two dozen soldiers who took part in border gun battle caught on a videotape in which a voice can be heard saying “kill him” after the confrontation was over.
Defense Secretary Luis Cresencio said the investigation into the July shooting will be carried out by military prosecutors.
The shootout in the border city of Nuevo Laredo ended in the death of nine suspected gang members and three apparent kidnap victims who were being carried in the back of the gunmen’s truck.
Occupants of the truck engaged in a high-speed chase and shootout with soldiers. According to a video published by the newspaper El Universal this week, once the truck came to a stop, soldiers surrounded it and continued firing. After they were told to stop, several soldiers approached the vehicle cautiously, looked into the bed of the pickup truck and suggested one of the occupants might still be alive.
A voice — apparently a soldier, but it was unclear whether it was an officer — said roughly, “Kill him." It was not clear if that was an order and no gunshot could be heard immediately following the comment.
The Defense Department left open the possibility that if civilians were killed as a result of improper military conduct, civilian prosecutors would become involved.
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said when asked about the video, “We are not going to allow these practices," and added, “This was the kind of thing done before, when the custom was to execute those wounded in confrontations.”
Raúl Tercero, the father of one of the apparent kidnap victims in the truck, said in a criminal complaint filed Aug. 7 that he received the video from a soldier who apparently disagreed with his comrades' behavior. Tercero and his son are migrants from Chiapas who came to Nuevo Laredo seeking work. The other two kidnap victims killed in the shootout were a local mechanic and an engineering student reported missing days before.
The independent Nuevo Laredo Human Rights Committee said the three had no weapons on them, tested negative for having fired weapons, and were shot at close range. Relatives of two of the men said their bodies were found with their hands tied.
Nuevo Laredo, across the border from Laredo, Texas, has long been dominated by remnants of the old Zetas cartel, which has splintered into several groups, one of the largest being the Northeast Cartel. The cartels often kidnap people either to hold them for ransom or as a message to rival gangs.
The Defense Department said at the time of the July shootout that three army patrol trucks were hit by gunfire, but no troops were hurt. The gunmen were believed to belong to the Cartel of the Northeast.
The department said one of the attackers’ burned-out pickups was left at the scene and eight assault rifles and two .50-caliber sniper rifles were also found.
Nuevo Laredo has been the scene of persistent cartel violence for years.
On April 1, the U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo issued an alert citing “reports of multiple gunfights and blockades throughout the city of Nuevo Laredo. U.S. government personnel are advised to shelter in place.”
On Jan. 4, the consulate wrote that “organized crime activity (including gun battles, murder, armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping, forced disappearances, extortion, and sexual assault) is common” in Nuevo Laredo. “Heavily armed members of criminal groups often patrol areas in marked and unmarked vehicles and operate with impunity. Local law enforcement has limited capability to respond to crime incidents.”
Nuevo Laredo has also been the scene of excesses by security forces in the past.
In 2018, marines acknowledged that fire from a helicopter gunship killed three members of a family riding in their car in Nuevo Laredo.
In 2019, arrest warrants were issued against seven state police officers for allegedly executing eight people in Nuevo Laredo. Police initially said the five men and three women were suspects killed in a shootout.
In that incident, the Nuevo Laredo Human Rights Committee collected statements from witnesses saying that police transported people to a home, made them dress in military fatigues, shot them and placed guns with their bodies to make it appear like a shootout.