EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – The Mexican border city where four American citizens were abducted at gunpoint Friday is in the middle of a drug cartel war involving local groups and outside influences, a U.S. security expert says.

Those groups are engaged in kidnappings and assassinations aimed to secure control of two cities – Matamoros and Reynosa – that are major doorways for the smuggling of drugs into the United States.

“The problem right now, especially in Matamoros, is the ongoing warfare. It hasn’t quieted down. There just hasn’t been any resolution. It’s going to continue to be a hot zone, it’s possible to be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Scott Stewart, vice president of intelligence for TorchStone Global, told Border Report

In a news release issued Sunday night, the FBI said the Americans crossed into Matamoros in a white minivan with North Carolina license plates. Unidentified gunmen fired at the van and the four Americans were placed in a vehicle and taken away.

Stewart said there is no way to know for sure at this time if the missing Americans were victims of random crime in Mexico or were being sought by drug gangs or were mistaken for targets being sought.

“It’s really unfortunate,” he said. “But thousands of people cross into Mexico every day through that crossing. So, for this vehicle to be singled out and attacked, it just seems very targeted to me.”

Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas, has long been a stronghold for the Gulf cartel. But the arrest and extradition to the United States of drug lord Osiel Cardenas Guillen in 2010, and the 2022 arrest , indictment and sentencing of family members and top associates have weakened the organization. Like sharks smelling blood, other groups have descended on the area.

“Basically, the Gulf cartel has imploded. You have various factions fighting not only for Matamoros but also for Reynosa. It’s a very bloody struggle and now you have these various factions being supported by groups from the outside. That’s also adding fuel to the fire,” Stewart said.

Those groups include the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, La Familia Michoacana and others.

“You have groups that don’t really own a plaza (city) on the border. So they have to team up with local factions to be able to push their product through,” he said. “In Matamoros, you have one faction of Los Metros (gang) with the Gulf cartel and you have CJNG working with the other faction of Los Metros. […] The big dog in the fight remains the remnants of the Cardenas family; Osiel Cardenas Guillen’s family connections.”

Stewart urged Americans visiting Matamoros to exercise caution, find out ahead of time what is going on in that city, stick to tourist areas and travel there during the day. He also warned them to stay out of trouble.

“Just because they are American or coming from the U.S. doesn’t mean they aren’t involved in the narcotics trade,” he said.

Meantime, the president of Mexico said his administration is watching the investigation being conducted by Tamaulipas state authorities.

“We are looking into the matter and we believe it will be resolved,” President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Monday at his daily news conference on YouTube. One of the reports being looked at is that the Americans crossed the border to purchase medicines and got caught up in a gang confrontation.