Mexico says still investigating reported Falcon Lake pirate attack

Mexican authorities today rebuffed news reports that they have stopped searching Falcon Lake for an American tourist who was allegedly ambushed by Mexican pirates.

Mexican authorities say they are still combing Falcon Lake for an American tourist who was allegedly ambushed by Mexican pirates last week while jet skiing with his wife.

The state prosecutor’s office of Tamaulipas in northern Mexico denied reports in American news media that Mexican authorities have quit searching for 30-year-old David Hartley. Mr. Hartley's wife says he was shot in the head Thursday by armed boaters.

Nor have Mexican authorities doubted the veracity of testimony coming from family of the deceased, the state prosecutor's office told the Monitor. Press officer Ruben Dario denied claims reportedly made by Hartley’s family that a body has not been found because Mexican authorities have not bothered to look.

The 60-mile area of reservoir and lakes that straddles United States and Mexican territory has been hit by heavy rains that could make the search more difficult, Mr. Dario says. “The dam has been releasing lots of water to prevent dangerous levels, so there are many factors involved,” he says.

Questionable claims?

Prosecutor Marco Antonio Guerrero from the municipality of Miguel Aleman, who is handling the investigation, said he could not comment by phone to the press. However, he denied reports that he had questioned whether Hartley’s wife, Tiffany, was telling the truth about the attack.

CBS News reported Tuesday that Mr. Guerrero said no evidence of a crime existed as there was no sign of a jet ski or a life vest worn by Hartley, appearing to suggest that Tiffany could have had a hand in her husband’s disappearance. "We are not certain that the incident happened the way they are telling us," he was quoted saying.

David Hartley’s family responded that they backed Tiffany’s account. His mother today called on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to intervene.

Tiffany has said she and her husband were approached by armed gunmen in two boats while visiting a tourist site in Mexican waters. The couple tried to flee to the US side in Zapata, Texas, when the men opened fire and hit Hartley in the back of the head. Tiffany returned to rescue her husband but the pirates chased her off with gunfire, she said.

Reports of Mexican pirates patrolling the lake have led Texas authorities to issue warnings to boaters. Pirates masquerading as police and brandishing tattoos with the letter “Z” – the sign of the notorious Zetas cartel – have reportedly boarded bass boats to rob fishermen. Experts say cartels cut off from drug smuggling by President Felipe Calderón’s war on traffickers are turning to other money-making ventures, among them piracy.

Bigger problems

While the incident is grabbing headlines in the United States, it has gone virtually unnoticed in Mexico amid a drug war that has killed more than 28,000 people since December 2006.

Just on Tuesday in Tamaulipas alone, the Mexican Navy arrested 17 alleged members of the powerful Gulf Cartel, at least six of them suspected of being local police officers, according to the state-run news agency Notimex. More than 100,000 rounds of ammunition and dozens of vehicles were seized along with the suspects.

And in another alleged attack on tourists, a group of 20 men traveling to Acapulco disappeared last week in what may have been a mass kidnapping. Their families and two men who escaped capture say the tourists from the state of Michoacan were looking for a hotel when they were nabbed, and insisted that they were not involved in organized crime.

David Augusto Sotelo, the state prosecutor from Guerrero, where Acapulco is located, said the men have no criminal record, but noted inconsistencies in reports of their capture and said there has been no request for ransom.

IN PICTURES: Mexico's drug war

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