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20 Acapulco Men May Have Been Abducted By Mistake

GUSTAVO RUIZ   10/ 5/10 10:03 PM ET   AP

Acapulco Shooting
Army soldiers walk by the body of a shootout victim in Acapulco on Sept. 23, 2010

MORELIA, Mexico — Twenty men kidnapped last week in the Pacific resort city of Acapulco had no criminal records and may have been targeted by mistake, Mexican investigators said Tuesday.

Police have found no trace of the men, whose kidnapping is one of the biggest blows yet to a resort city whose sparkling bay was a favorite playground of Hollywood's elite decades ago.

Acapulco has long since lost its former glory and is now mostly popular with Mexican tourists. Even that source of income has been jeopardized as the port city becomes a drug trafficking battleground.

Shootouts have erupted near the main tourist strip and in August, soldiers killed a U.S. man on a highway outside the city. The soldiers said the American fired at them first, but the military says it is investigating that claim.

Police have confirmed that 19 of the abducted men were mechanics from the western city of Morelia and apparently had been vacationing together in the Pacific resort city, said Jesus Montejano, the state attorney general of Michoacan state, were Morelia is located.

A 17-year-old among the group was the son of one of the mechanics.

"They were all men of honorable work," Montejano told reporters. "Their families lived modestly and they were all mechanics of different specialties, and their shops have been located."

The kidnapping was reported Friday by a man who said he had been traveling with the group. He told police that he and another man went to the store and when they returned their companions, who had been traveling in four cars and were looking for a place to stay, were gone. The man said witnesses told him an armed gang had kidnapped the group.

The man had told police the men were mechanics who saved up each year to vacation together.

Fernando Monreal, director of the investigative police in Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located, said that the man's story seemed suspicious in a country where people rarely vacation with out their families.

But a search through criminal records in Michoacan and Guerrero states, and interviews with the families of the men, appeared to corroborate his story, officials have since said.

Police have found the four cars the group was traveling in but have found no trace of the missing men despite scouring highways around Acapulco.

In northern Mexico, meanwhile, marines arrested 17 alleged members of the Gulf cartel in the several operations across Tamaulipas, a state bordering Texas. The marines also seized 49 assault rifles, two handguns and six hand grenades, the navy said in a statement.

It was the second mass arrest of alleged Gulf cartel members in a week. Thirty suspected members of the gang were captured in raids in Tamaulipas last week.

Violence has surged in Tamaulipas and neighboring Nuevo Leon state this year since a turf war broke out between the Gulf cartel and its former ally, the Zetas gang of hit men.

The region has seen the assassination of a gubernatorial candidate, numerous mayors, grenade attacks and the massacre of 72 migrants who apparently refused to work for the Zetas.

In the latest violence, a shootout broke out in the city of Monterrey between gunmen and police trying to rescue a hostage.

Two gunmen were killed and three state police were injured, said Nuevo Leon Public Safety Secretary Luis Carlos Trevino.

Mexico's drug war has claimed an unprecedented 28,000 lives nationwide since President Felipe Calderon intensified the crackdown on the cartels, deploying thousands of soldiers and federal police across the country in December 2006.

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Filed by Curtis M. Wong  |