Three U.S. citizens traveling to spend the holidays with their relatives were among those killed in a spree of shooting attacks on buses in northern Mexico, authorities from both countries said Friday.
A group of five gunmen attacked three buses in Mexico's Gulf coast state of Veracruz on Thursday, killing a total of seven passengers in what authorities said appeared to be a violent robbery spree.
The Americans killed were a mother and her two daughters who were returning to visit relatives in the region, known as the Huasteca, said an official in the neighboring state of Hidalgo, where the mother was born.
Hidalgo state regional assistant secretary Jorge Rocha identified the dead U.S. mother as Maria Sanchez Hernandez, 39, of Fort Worth, Texas, and the daughters as Karla, 19, and Cristina, 13. Rocha said all three held dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship. A 14-year-old Mexican nephew traveling with the three was also killed.
A U.S. Embassy official confirmed the women's nationalities, but could offer no information on their ages or hometowns. The official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name, said consular authorities were offering assistance to the victims' relatives.
While funeral plans were unclear, Rocha said Sanchez Hernandez's mother wants her daughter to be buried in Mexico.
Three other Mexican citizens were killed in the Thursday attacks on the three buses.
The five gunmen who allegedly carried out the attacks were later killed by soldiers.
Earlier in their spree, the gunmen shot to death three people and killed a fourth with grenade in the nearby town of El Higo, Veracruz.
On Thursday, the U.S. Consulate General in Matamoros, a Mexican border city north of where the attacks occurred, said in a statement that "several vehicles," including the buses, were attacked, but did not specify what the other vehicles were.
The consulate urged Americans to "exercise caution" when traveling in Veracruz, and "avoid intercity road travel at night."
While the specific area where the Thursday attacks occurred is not frequented by foreign travelers, other parts of the Huasteca — a hilly, verdant area on the Gulf coast — are popular among Mexican tourists and some foreigners.
The attack occurred near the border with the state of Tamaulipas, an area that has been the scene of bloody battles between the Zetas and Gulf drug cartels.
Meanwhile, the tortured bodies of 10 people were found in northern Veracruz, local media reported Friday, as attacks in the region intensify between the rival cartels.
In September, 35 bodies were dumped along a downtown highway in the Veracruz city of Boca del Rio.
More than 45,000 people have been killed in cartel-related violence since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006.