Mexico's Defense Department confirmed Tuesday that soldiers opened fire on a pickup truck in the violent northern border city of Nuevo Laredo over the weekend, killing five men and wounding a sixth.
The shooting ignited a clash Sunday between the soldiers and residents who came to the scene to protest. A seventh person in the vehicle was unharmed.
The department said in a statement that it was cooperating with civilian prosecutors investigating the deaths.
The statement said soldiers heard gunshots, and approached a pickup with no license plates and no lights in the pre-dawn hours of Sunday.
“Upon see the army troops, they (the occupants) accelerated in a brusque and evasive way,” according to the statement.
The soldiers said the speeding pickup then crashed into a parked vehicle. Soldiers said that when the heard the crash, they opened fire. The army did not say whether they thought the bang was a gunshot.
According to a state crime scene report obtained Monday by The Associated Press, the soldiers said the pickup truck failed to obey their orders to stop.
The incident provoked a scuffle between soldiers and a large group of angry residents who believed the “victims were not armed and that there was no reason to arbitrarily kill them in this way,” the activist group Human Rights Committee of Nuevo Laredo said in a statement.
Videos of the ensuing confrontation were posted on social media, showing residents scuffling with soldiers on a street near the bullet-ridden pickup truck, with civilians throwing punches, knocking one soldier to the ground and repeatedly kicking him. Shots can be heard toward the end of that incident with people running, but it is not clear who fired them.
In a video statement, rights committee activist Raymundo Ramos claimed the soldiers fired at the crowd. He also said the dead youths had been returning from a night out at a club when they were killed.
The state crime scene report said that a Texas-issued identification document was found on one of the dead bodies. The U.S. Embassy could not immediately confirm whether any American citizens or residents were involved.
The report said three of the bodies were found in the pickup and two on the sidewalk nearby. Such reports usually note any weapons found at a crime scene, but no mention was made of any in this case.
Nuevo Laredo is dominated by the violent Northeast drug cartel, an offshoot of the old Zetas cartel. Soldiers and marines have frequently come under fire from heavily armed cartel gunmen in Nuevo Laredo.
The city has also been the scene of human rights violations by the military in the past.
In 2021, Mexico's navy said Monday it turned 30 marines over to civilian prosecutors to face justice in the cases of people who disappeared during anti-crime operations in Nuevo Laredo in 2014.
Marines were accused of rounding up supposed suspects, some of whom were not heard from again. Through 2018, dozens of people disappeared in Nuevo Laredo.
Under Mexican law, military tribunals can hear only cases that involve violations of military code; . Offenses against civilians must be tried in civilian courts.
+The department said the case had also been referred to military prosecutors for investigation of any possible violation of military codes.