MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) - The abduction of a U.S. anti-kidnap expert in northern Mexico last month remains a mystery with no clues to the man’s whereabouts and no ransom demanded by his captors, police said on Monday.
Gunmen abducted Felix Batista, a Cuban-American credited with negotiating the release of hostages held by Colombian rebels in past years, in the relatively safe industrial city of Saltillo, Coahuila state, on Dec 10.
“We have not had contact with Batista or those who took him,” an official at the Coahuila attorney general’s office said.
Another official said last month the attorney general suspected drug gangs who wanted to show their power were behind the abduction. The powerful Gulf cartel and its feared “Zeta” hitmen run drugs through the area into Texas.
Security analysts have speculated Batista may have been taken in retaliation for helping procure the release of captives in Mexico.
Batista, based in Miami, was invited to Coahuila by state police to give seminars on security as the death toll in Mexico’s gruesome drug war soared to 5,650 people last year. Kidnappings are on the rise across Mexico.
Batista was not believed to be negotiating anyone’s release at the time, and his Houston-based employer, ASI Global, said he was on private business when he was snatched outside a restaurant in Saltillo.
The abduction is a puzzle because Batista, an experienced security expert, apparently broke with caution by stepping outside the Saltillo restaurant alone after answering a cell phone call.
Police are unclear whether he was hauled into a waiting SUV or went willingly in a vehicle sent for him.
“It is like he has fallen off the map. The bad guys have gone to ground because they may not have expected his abduction to generate such scrutiny and media interest,” said Fred Burton, a former U.S. counterterrorism agent now at Texas-based security consultancy Stratfor.
“By the nature of his profession, Batista was in direct contact with unsavory individuals, but there is such a vacuum of information we really don’t know what happened,” he added.
Batista is one of least 17 U.S. residents kidnapped in Mexico since October last year, mostly in the violent city of Tijuana bordering San Diego, according to the FBI.
Reporting by Robin Emmott, editing by Philip Barbara