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Mexican cartel apologizes for kidnapping, killing Americans, turns over 5 it says responsible.

I'd apologize too! Nobody wants Clint to come down there!

Mexican cartel apologizes for kidnapping, killing Americans, turns over 5 it says responsible.

By Jorge L. Ortiz, Rick Jervis, Kevin Johnson, Josh Meyer, USA TODAY

A Mexican drug cartel claiming its members were behind the brazen kidnapping of four Americans last week handed over five of the members and left a note of apology, Mexican media outlets and The Associated Press reported Thursday.

Photos circulating on social media show five men on the pavement with their hands tied – four of them shirtless – in front of a pickup truck, which has a handwritten letter of apology on the windshield.

The AP reported obtaining a copy of the letter from a law enforcement source in Tamaulipas, the Mexican state where the American travelers were attacked. Two of them were killed and another one wounded in a shooting Friday shortly after arriving in the border city of Matamoros for cosmetic surgery.

Authorities have said cartel members probably mistook them for drug smugglers and abducted them after shooting their van.

In the letter, the Scorpions faction of the Gulf cartel apologized to the residents of Matamoros, a Mexican woman who was killed by a stray bullet and the four Americans and their families.

“We have decided to turn over those who were directly involved and responsible in the events, who at all times acted under their own decision-making and lack of discipline,” the letter reads, adding that those people had gone against the cartel’s rules.

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The AP also obtained the photo of the men face-down on the ground and reported that they had been found tied up inside one of the vehicles authorities had been seeking, along with the letter, according to an official not authorized to speak about the case.

Bodies returned to US authorities

Tamaulipas officials have not publicly confirmed having new suspects in custody, but earlier Thursday the attorney general’s office said it had seized an ambulance and medical clinic in Matamoros that were used to provide first aid to the injured Americans.

Authorities located them Tuesday morning on the outskirts of the city, guarded by a man who was arrested. Zindell Brown and Shaeed Woodard died in the attack; Eric Williams survived with a leg wound and Latavia McGee was physically unharmed.

The two survivors were returned to the U.S. and are receiving medical care. The remains of Woodard and Brown were handed over to U.S. authorities Thursday after undergoing autopsies.

Apology won't take away the suffering

Jerry Wallace, a cousin of Williams, told the AP the family's happy he's alive but does not accept the cartel's apology.

“It ain’t going to change nothing about the suffering that we went through,” said Wallace, 62, who called for the American and Mexican governments to better address cartel violence.

Jerry Robinette, a former special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, said he wasn’t surprised the cartel handed to Mexican authorities the five men it claims were involved in the attack.

“Many times we’ve seen the cartel will police themselves,” he said. “It’s not good for their business. They’ll clean up their own mess.”

Next, there will be warrants for their extradition to the U.S. to face criminal charges, Robinette said. Federal investigators will still try to determine what role, if any, the men played in the shooting. And U.S. authorities may not be satisfied by the men’s capture, he said.

“It’s one thing to identify the individuals most directly involved with the violence, but that’s only part of it,” Robinette said. “It’s imperative the investigation goes above and beyond the individuals who actually pulled the trigger.”

Fifth member of group stayed behind and grew concerned

Police in Brownsville, Texas, where the travelers crossed into Mexico, said they were aware of developments in Matamoros.

Police spokesman Martin Sandoval said the FBI was attempting to confirm whether the men in the photo were the actual suspects. The FBI did not immediately comment Thursday.

Sandoval confirmed police had located a fifth member of the traveling party, Cheryl Orange, who stayed behind in Brownsville because she had forgotten required travel documents. The group had driven from South Carolina to Mexico for one of the members, Latavia McGee, to undergo what was initially reported as a tummy tuck, although Orange told police it was actually for "gluteal augmentation.''

Orange first alerted authorities to concerns about their safety when she called police Saturday, the day after the other four had crossed the border. Orange told police she had last seen the group at 8 a.m. Friday, when they left a Brownsville motel for Matamoros in a rented white minivan bearing North Carolina plates.

The group had planned to return in time to check out of the motel Saturday, according to the police report.

"(Orange) stated that she has not heard from them since (Friday)," the report said.

Ex-Mexican intelligence official on cartel: 'Bunch of unsophisticated thugs'

Alejandro Hope, a former Mexican intelligence official, told USA TODAY that various factions of the Gulf cartel are at war with each other in Matamoros due to arrests and splintering into competing groups vying for control of the lucrative northbound plazas used to traffic drugs into the U.S.

In recent years, the warring factions have also made a lot of their money from extortion, robberies and other violent crime, he said, operating with impunity because of the ineffectiveness and corruption of local authorities in Mexico.

Hope speculated the attack on the Americans may have started as a robbery before escalating into an international incident, prompting cartel leaders to offer the five men as scapegoats.

“They call themselves a cartel, but they’re just a bunch of unsophisticated thugs,” said Hope, a security consultant and partner at GEA Grupo de Economistas y Asociados in Mexico.

He added that front-line law enforcement officials on both sides of the border work closely together and would likely continue to do so.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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