http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20081215/..._mexico_kidnap

U.S. anti-kidnap expert kidnapped in Mexico


Mon Dec 15, 2:47 pm ET
Gloria Valles, 30, left, and her daughter Perla Valles, 10, wait for evening AP Gloria Valles, 30, left, and her daughter Perla Valles, 10, wait for evening classes to begin outside

MONTERREY, Mexico (Reuters) Mexican gunmen have kidnapped a U.S. security consultant who negotiated the release of dozens of kidnap victims in Latin America.

Gunmen abducted Felix Batista outside a restaurant last Wednesday in the relatively safe northern industrial city of Saltillo in Coahuila state, Mexican authorities and his employer, security consultancy ASI Global, said on Monday.

Batista, a Miami-based Cuban American credited with negotiating the release of victims abducted by Colombian rebels, was snatched after he stepped outside the restaurant, answering a call on his cellular phone, Mexican media said.

The U.S. embassy in Mexico City said it was investigating and declined to comment further.

"He may have been targeted by organized crime in an attempt to show their power. Saltillo is not a kidnapping hot spot," said a source at Coahuila state attorney general's office.

Batista's employer, Houston-based ASI Global, denied Mexican media reports that he was a former FBI agent and said he was on a private trip in Coahuila state near Texas, giving seminars on security.

"We have requested help from the FBI and the Mexican authorities," said ASI Global's President Charlie LeBlanc.

Hundreds of people are kidnapped in Mexico every year and the number of victims has increased sharply as drug gangs, under pressure from President Felipe Calderon's army-backed crackdown, seek new revenues to fund their operations.

Coahuila lawmakers last week sent a bill to Mexico's Congress to change the constitution to allow the death penalty for kidnappers who kill their captives.

More than 5,300 people have been killed in drug violence across Mexico this year as cartels fight each other over smuggling routes to the United States and clash with Mexican security forces seeking to restore security.