MEXICO CITY – A well-known U.S. anti-kidnapping expert has himself fallen victim to Mexico's wave of abductions as unidentified assailants snatched him from a street in the northern city of Saltillo, one of his employers said Monday.
The kidnapping of U.S. security consultant Felix Batista — who was in Saltillo to offer advice on how to confront abductions for ransom — showed how bold Mexico's kidnappers have become. Attacks on U.S. anti-crime consultants have largely been the stuff of movies.
"We have notified the FBI and Mexican authorities, and they are working on the case," said Charlie LeBlanc, the president of the Houston, Texas-based security firm ASI Global LLC., where Batista is a consultant. "What we are doing is we're offering our support to the family and hoping for the best."
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City said it would not comment on the case, and LeBlanc would not say whether any ransom demand had been received, saying "I'd rather not talk about it right now."
LeBlanc said Batista "was abducted on the evening of Dec. 10 by unknown assailants" in Saltillo, the capital of Coahuila state. He said Batista had his own security business and that "he was in Mexico for business that wasn't associated with our company."
Batista's work involved "crisis management consulting," LeBlanc said. "Part of that could be or may involve negotiations with kidnappers."
ASI Global's Web site advertises "kidnap and ransom response" and says the company has worked for major insurance companies.
Kidnapping has become a rising problem in Mexico, and Coahuila's governor recently set off a nationwide controversy by proposing to reinstate the death penalty for kidnappers who kill their victims. Mexico outlawed the death penalty in 2005 and abandoned it in practice decades ago.
The kidnap-killings in the past year of the daughter of the country's former sports commissioner and the son of a prominent businessman have caused outrage across Mexico.
Coahuila state law enforcement officials who were not authorized to be quoted by name said Batista had been giving talks to local police officials and businessmen on how to prevent or avoid kidnappings.
They said he apparently was snatched from a street outside a restaurant.
A profile of Batista posted — and later removed — from the ASI Global Web site described him as "the primary case officer for all cases throughout the Latin American region."
The site said Batista was a former U.S. Army major who is "known for conducting in-depth threat assessments, the successful resolution of nearly 100 kidnap and ransom cases (many on behalf of major insurance carriers) and investigations."
The company denied local media reports that Batista was a former FBI agent, and warned those reports could put his life at risk.
"We at ASI are very concerned for Felix's safety and would like to take this opportunity of stating categorically that Felix has never been an agent in the FBI," the company said in a statement. "Irresponsible and erroneous reporting in the press could pose a very real threat to Felix's life and the safe resolution of this terrible situation and must be corrected."
The seizure seems to echo the plot of a 2004 movie, "Man on Fire," in which Denzel Washington played a U.S. security consultant who takes on Mexican kidnappers and is abducted himself.