The U.S. State Department has issued an alert, warning travelers that the “equivalent to military small-unit combat” is taking place across the southern U.S. border in Mexico and that Americans are being kidnapped and murdered there.
“Recent Mexican army and police force conflicts with heavily-armed narcotics cartels have escalated to levels equivalent to military small-unit combat and have included use of machine guns and fragmentation grenades,” said the State Department alert.
“Confrontations have taken place in numerous towns and cities in northern Mexico, including Tijuana in the Mexican state of Baja California, and Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez in the state of Chihuahua,” reads the alert. “The situation in northern Mexico remains very fluid; the location and timing of future armed engagements there cannot be predicted.”
The State Department particularly urged that Americans be wary when traveling in that part of Mexico closest to the United States. “U.S. citizens are urged to be especially alert to safety and security concerns when visiting the border region,” said the alert.
Murder and kidnapping of Americans has become routine in Tijuana, which sits just across the border from San Diego, California, according to the State Department, and sometimes heavily armed attackers wear the uniforms of the Mexican police or military.
“Dozens of U.S. citizens were kidnapped and/or murdered in Tijuana in 2007,” says the alert. “Public shootouts have occurred during daylight hours near shopping areas. Criminals are armed with a wide array of sophisticated weapons. In some cases, assailants have worn full or partial police or military uniforms and have used vehicles that resemble police vehicles.”
The alert also warns Americans to avoid areas where drugs and prostitution are evident and to “refrain from displaying expensive-looking jewelry, large amounts of money and other valuable items.”
In light of this alert, which was first issued on Apr. 14, and was listed as “current as of today, Thursday May 15 17:51:35 2008” on State’s Web site on Wednesday, Cybercast News Service submitted a number of questions to the State Department via e-mail, and received non-responsive answers the next day. Cybercast News Service’s questions were as follows:
— “The alert says ‘attacks are aimed primarily at members of drug trafficking organizations, Mexican police forces, criminal justice officials and journalists.’ Can you provide more details about who has been attacked and the result of those attacks, including injuries, fatalities and legal ramifications?
— “The alert says violence has ‘escalated to levels equivalent to military small-unit combat and have included use of machine guns and fragmentation grenades.’ Can you provide more information, including the number of incidents involving these kinds of weapons and the number of weapons confiscated?
— “The alert says that violence not related to drug trafficking has increased in Tijuana and Ciudad Jarez, with ‘dozens of U.S. citizens … kidnapped and/or murdered in Tijuana in 2007.’ How many people were kidnapped or murdered and how do those numbers compare with the numbers in prior years?”
— “The alert recommends that Americans avoid areas where prostitution and drug dealing occurs. Where are those areas?”
— “How many incidents in 2007 and other years are recorded that show U.S. citizens being followed or harassed in the border areas, including Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros and Tijuana?”
— “How many kidnapping cases of U.S. citizens remain unsolved?”
— “What actions is the state department taking to reduce the violence on the border?”
The State Department’s written answer to those questions is as follows:
“The State Department’s Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (ACS) administers the Consular Information Program, which informs the public of conditions abroad that may affect their safety and security.
“Travel Alerts are issued to disseminate information about short-term conditions, generally within a particular country, that pose imminent risks to the security of U.S. citizens. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks, coups, anniversaries of terrorist events, election-related demonstrations or violence, and high-profile events such as international conferences or regional sports events are examples of conditions that might generate a Travel Alert.
“The travel alert is a collaborative effort based on media reports and other information released within a particular country. It is provided so that American travellers (sic) can make an informed decision about their plans to visit a particular location at a particular time.
“For various reasons, American citizens often choose not to report their involvement in activities while abroad.
“Your best source for detailed statistics and information about specific locations would be from sources within Mexico.”