Federal and state forces mounted a search operation Sunday for Mexican football star Alan Pulido, who was abducted in the crime-plagued northern border state of Tamaulipas.
The 25-year-old Pulido is a forward for Olympiakos of Greece and was part of Mexico’s 2014 World Cup team, though he wasn’t called up for the Copa America tournament that starts this coming week.
“We have information that he was intercepted by armed persons and since then his whereabouts are unknown,” said state attorney general Ismael Quintanilla.
Family members told authorities that six armed men snatched Pulido around dawn in his hometown of Ciudad Victoria, the capital of Tamaulipas, a state that has suffered battles between major drug gangs.
“We are not aware (that the kidnappers) have spoken or communicated with the family,” Quintanilla said.
Local media reported that Pulido had accompanied his girlfriend to a party and that the car they were in was intercepted by a convoy of vans that blocked the road and forced him out.
The young woman was released almost immediately, but said she had no idea where Pulido had been taken.
Pulido’s Greek team said it hoped for a good outcome for the player.
“At this difficult time, our thoughts and prayers are with Alan,” Olympiakos said on its official Twitter account.
1/2 At this difficult time, our thoughts and prayers are with Alan. pic.twitter.com/3GdCIfz1Ot— Olympiacos FC (@olympiacos_org) May 29, 2016
Former teammates on Mexico’s national team went on social media websites to offer their support for his welfare.
“A shame what happened,” goalkeeper Jesus Corona said on Twitter. “My prayers are with him and his family at this difficult time.”
Pulido debuted and played several seasons with the club Tigres of Monterrey, whose Twitter account expressed solidarity with the player’s family “in the difficult situation they are experiencing”.
Pulido left the Tigres in 2014 to play in Europe, though he has been in a dispute with the Mexican club about whether his contract there continues to be valid.
Tamaulipas is home to the Gulf and Zetas drug cartels, two criminal groups that were once allies but have fought brutal turf wars in recent years.
While they have both been weakened by the captures or killings of top leaders, their members still sow fear in the population.
About 5,000 people are listed as “disappeared” in Tamaulipas, out of the total 26,000 people reported missing in Mexico last year.
But according to the non-governmental organisation Families and Friends of the Disappeared in Tamaulipas, 11,000 people are unaccounted for in the state.