The Biden administration on Wednesday ruled out designating Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations following the kidnapping of four Americans that led to two deaths near the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Designating these cartels as [foreign terrorist organizations] would not grant us any additional authorities that we don’t really have at this time,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a news briefing with reporters. “The United States has powerful sanctions authorities specifically designated to combat narcotics trafficking organizations and the individuals and entities that enable them. So, we have not been afraid to use them.”

The White House is in touch with the families of American citizens who were kidnapped or killed in Mexico in a high-profile international incident that drew the response of the FBI and top Mexican law enforcement, said Jean-Pierre.

In a Wednesday briefing, Jean-Pierre said the administration has spoken with the families of the victims but did not offer many details. It’s not clear if President Joe Biden personally spoke with the families.

“We will do everything in our power to identify, find, and hold accountable the individuals responsible for this attack, and we continue to work in coordination with the Mexican government,” she said. The U.S. Treasury Department, she added, has sanctioned Mexican firms and individuals in connection with the drug trade and cartels in recent months.

In October 2022 and last month, the agency sanctioned members of the powerful Sinaloa cartel who are allegedly part of the organization’s fentanyl and methamphetamine trade. The agency last week targeted Mexican companies linked to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel, known as CJNG, with fresh sanctions, according to a news release.

CJNG in some areas has “become heavily engaged in timeshare fraud, which often targets U.S. citizens,” the department said. “This crime, which can defraud victims of their life savings, results in another significant revenue stream for the cartel and strengthens its overall criminal enterprise. Today’s action exposes this CJNG scheme and also serves as a warning to potential victims, many of whom are elderly.”

Jean-Pierre’s response about the Biden administration’s strategies targeting cartels came in the wake of a violent incident that occurred in Matamoros, Mexico, which is located just south of Brownsville, Texas. Four Americans were kidnapped and two of them were killed after they crossed the border for reported medical treatment, according to U.S. and Mexican authorities.

Several U.S. agencies, including the FBI and State Department, issued alerts after the four were kidnapped by armed individuals. The four Americans’ minivan crashed and was fired on shortly after they crossed into the border city of Matamoros last Friday as drug cartel factions tore through the streets, the region’s governor said.

They were found Tuesday in a wooden shack, guarded by a man who was arrested, in a rural area east of Matamoros called Ejido Tecolote on the way to the gulf called “Bagdad Beach,” according to the state’s chief prosecutor, Irving Barrios.

The surviving Americans were whisked back to U.S. soil on Tuesday in Brownsville, the southernmost tip of Texas and just across the border from Matamoros. The convoy of ambulances and SUVs was escorted by Mexican military Humvees and National Guard trucks with mounted machine guns.

A relative of one of the victims said Monday that the four had traveled together from the Carolinas so one of them could get a tummy tuck surgery from a doctor in Matamoros.

The governor said the wounded American, Eric Williams, had been shot in the left leg and the injury was not life threatening. “It’s quite a relief,” said Robert Williams, 38-year-old Eric’s brother. “I look forward to seeing him again and actually being able to talk to him.” Williams said he not sure if the other survivor, Latavia Burgess, was the one seeking the surgery.

A family member of one of the slain Americans, Zindell Brown, had expressed concerns about going to Mexico for the procedure. Brown repeatedly told the others that “we shouldn’t go down,” his sister told news outlets.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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