Hundreds of armed men belonging to a newly-formed vigilante group called “El Machete” have abducted 21 people while burning vehicles and at least a dozen homes in a southern Mexico town, officials say.
The chaos in Pantelho unfolded Monday as the group — which announced its existence only a week earlier, pledging to fight the incursion of drug cartels in the largely Indigenous mountain communities of Chiapas – was going street by street in search of alleged criminals, the Associated Press reports.
Pedro Gómez, a local activist, told the AP at least three vehicles and a dozen homes were burned. The town hall was vandalized as well.
The vigilantes, who appear to include members of the Tzotzil Indigenous group, are calling themselves a “self-defense force,” a phenomenon seen for years in some western Mexican states.
An official in the Chiapas state prosecutor’s office, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that an investigation into the events had been opened. The official said the gunmen belonged to El Machete.
The 21 abducted residents were taken to San José Buena Vista Tercero, the community where the vigilante group is allegedly based. The official said the gunmen were apparently looking for members of another group called “Los Herreras.”
After El Machete announced its presence earlier this month, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said he would not accept the presence of the so-called self-defense forces.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.