Mexico rescues 73 suspected kidnap victims near U.S. border

MEXICO CITY Mon Sep 30, 2013 8:59pm EDT

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Seventy-three suspected kidnap victims were rescued in northern Mexico near the border city of Reynosa after police followed their alleged captors to a house and heard frantic calls for help, authorities said on Monday.

Of the victims, 37 were Mexicans, 19 were from Honduras, 14 from Guatemala and another three from El Salvador, federal police said in a statement. Among the victims were women and minors, some of whom reported having been sexually abused.

Police held three suspects, who were believed to have taken their victims on buses or at bus stations, the statement said. Some of the victims had been held for up to four months while their captors demanded payment from their families, police said.

Police also seized weapons and drugs found at the home, including nearly 700 rounds of bullets, a hand grenade and almost 10,000 kilograms (22,046 lbs) of what was believed to be marijuana.

Reynosa is in Tamaulipas, south of Texas, and is one of Mexico's most violent states, where rival gangs battle for lucrative drug-running routes into the United States.

In 2010, 72 migrants, including dozens of Central Americans, were found in a mass grave in Tamaulipas in an incident linked to Mexico's brutal Zetas cartel.

News of the rescue came as public worries over lawlessness have increased in Mexico, according to a new poll published by Mexico's national statistics agency, INEGI.

The poll taken in March and April showed that 72.3 percent of Mexicans adults said they felt that their home state was unsafe, up from 66.6 percent during the same period a year earlier.

President Enrique Pena Nieto took office in December, pledging to reduce the violence, which soared under his predecessor, Felipe Calderon.

Calderon sent in the armed forces to bring drug traffickers to heel but killings rose as the cartels splintered.

Around 70,000 people died in the explosion of gang-related violence under Calderon, and the homicide count has eased under Pena Nieto. However, the bloody turf wars are still claiming almost 1,000 lives a month, according to official figures.

(Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez and Lizbeth Diaz; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Paul Simao)