Mexican authorities are investigating a battle between two suspected gangs that left 21 dead in a border town near where U.S. President Donald Trump visited on Thursday to win support for his plan to build a wall.
Tamaulipas state officials said that 21 bodies were found Wednesday in the city of Ciudad Miguel Aleman. Seventeen were burned, they said.
Trump was visiting McAllen, Texas on Thursday afternoon, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) from Ciudad Miguel Aleman, across the Rio Grande river, to drum up support for a border wall. He threatened to use emergency powers to bypass Congress and get billions of dollars to pay for the wall.
He has justified that demand by saying that undocumented migrants, criminals and illegal drugs have been pouring across the border. Statistics show illegal immigration has fallen to a 20-year low, while many drugs are believed to enter through legal ports of entry.
Photos shared with Reuters by a state official show charred bodies scattered along a dirt track in scrubland, alongside burned-out vehicles.
One body was wearing the remains of a baseball cap bearing the letters and logo of the local Gulf Cartel, while others wore the remains of bullet-proof vests with the same insignia.
Turf wars between the Gulf Cartel and its chief rival, the Zetas, have been a key source of bloodshed over recent years in Tamaulipas, one of the most violent states in Mexico.
Luis Rodriguez, a spokesman for state police, said in a statement that it appeared gunmen from the Gulf Cartel had fought with members of the Northeast Cartel, a group that split off from the Zetas.
Irving Barrios, the state’s attorney general, said in a radio interview that authorities found semi-automatic weapons and bulletproof vehicles at the site.
The area is “greatly fought over” by traffickers of arms and drugs as well as those who help undocumented migrants to cross to the United States, he said.
Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Mexico during years of fighting between security forces and cartels warring over drug trafficking, extortion rackets and the exploitation of migrants.
Reporting by Delphine Schrank in Reynosa, additional reporting by Lizbeth Diaz in Tijuana and Michael O’Boyle and Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City; editing by Rosalba O’Brien