MEXICO CITY – Masked gunmen stormed a train in southeastern Mexico and kidnapped at least 80 Central American migrants presumably bound for the United States, a priest who runs a migrant shelter said Monday.
The Rev. Alejandro Solalinde said migrants who escaped the attack told him that armed men in ski masks and civilian clothes intercepted the train as it headed northward through Veracruz state Friday. The gunmen then allegedly forced migrants to climb down from atop the cars and stuffed some into at least three waiting SUVs.
Solalinde, who runs a migrant shelter in nearby Oaxaca state, said he suspects that the Zetas drug cartel was involved because it operates in the area.
The train was scheduled to stop at the community of Medias Aguas in Veracruz but continued on to an isolated area, Solalinde said the witnesses told him, implying that the train's operators were cooperating with the gunmen.
The federal government's National Immigration Institute said in a statement late Monday that it was assisting an investigation by federal prosecutors and state officials in Veracruz and Oaxaca. Agents with Grupo Beta, a government-sponsored organization that aids migrants, have gone to the area of the alleged kidnapping to look for witnesses, it said.
The priest said some who escaped told authorities about 250 migrants were on the train, most them from Honduras and Guatemala.
Thousands of Central American migrants enter Mexican territory without permission each year, many bound for the United States.
A report released in February by Mexico's National Human Rights Commission says at least 11,333 migrants were abducted between April and September 2010.
One of the worst attacks in recent history occurred in August 2010, when 72 migrants were killed in the northern state of Tamaulipas near the border with Texas. The Zetas are suspected in that killing.
Police also recently made arrests in the suspected December kidnapping of 50 migrants in Oaxaca.