Kidnappers demand ransom for Frenchman: Mexico

Zinacantepec (Mexico) (AFP) –


Kidnappers who seized a French citizen and a Mexican actor in a national park in central Mexico have demanded a ransom, the Mexican security minister said Monday.

The two men, identified as Frederic Michel and Alejandro Sandi, were traveling in a group of all-terrain vehicles in the park around the Nevado de Toluca volcano Sunday when they were ambushed and abducted, witnesses said.

"There have been communications, and a ransom payment was, in effect, requested," Security Minister Alfonso Durazo told journalists.

"We hope to have good news very soon... We have organized a search operation, the protocol for these types of cases has been activated and, thanks to that, we are very, very close to closing the investigation with a favorable outcome."

Prosecutors in Paris said they had also opened an investigation, given that one of the victims is French.

"We have mobilized to find our compatriot as soon as possible, in close cooperation with the local authorities," said a French foreign ministry spokeswoman, declining to give further details given the sensitive nature of the case.

Police and National Guard troops launched a search in the area around the snow-capped volcano, a park located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) northeast of Mexico City that is popular with hikers and campers.

By Monday morning the operation had expanded to two nearby municipalities, Tejupilco and Zinacantepec, known for a heavy presence of armed criminal gangs, an officer on patrol in the area told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the case.

Sandi is an actor who played a secondary role in the TV series "Lord of the Skies," a drama about drug traffickers broadcast by US-based Latin American network Telemundo.

Two Mexican actresses who were also traveling in the group said gunmen intercepted them and took their car by force, but let them go free.

"We were on our way to visit the Nevado de Toluca when armed men blocked the road and took our car," actress and singer Esmeralda Ugalde said in a video posted to Twitter, speaking alongside fellow actress Vanessa Arias.

"There were three people in that car: me, my friend Esmeralda Ugalde and Alejandro Sandi," said Arias, without mentioning Michel, who was apparently traveling in another car.

Mexico has seen a significant increase in kidnappings this year: 1,700 from January to October, a rate of more than five per day -- a 38 percent increase on the same period last year.

Leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who took office in December 2018, is struggling to rein in violent crime widely blamed on Mexico's violent drug cartels and other criminal gangs.

This year appears on track to break Mexico's murder record, with 28,741 so far.