Mexican soldiers rescued 165 kidnapped migrants — at least 20 of them minors — from the border town of Gustavo Díaz Ordaz in the northeastern Mexican state of Tamaulipas, the country's Secretariat of the Interior said Thursday.
Juan Cortes Arrez, one of the people suspected of holding the group captive, was arrested, Mexican officials said.
The migrants fell victim to human smugglers, who instead of crossing them across the U.S.-Mexico border as arranged, turned them over to criminal groups who would then extort relatives for money, the officials said.
"The victims said that they had the intention of entering the United States of America, but they were held against their will while a suspected criminal group contacted their families by phone and demanded different sums of money that were sent to their kidnappers," secretariat spokesman Eduardo Sanchez Hernandez said at a news conference Thursday.
Officials made the discovery on June 4, when officers responded to a report of armed people in a local neighborhood.
Military personnel rushed to the scene, where they found an armed man who tried to escape authorities.
The hostages were discovered inside a building, where they told authorities they had been kept against their will for two to three weeks in precarious conditions.
Two pregnant women — one Honduran and one Salvadoran — were among the prisoners. Seventy-seven of the hostages are Salvadorans, 50 Guatemalan, 23 Honduran, 14 Mexican and one of the hostages has Indian citizenship, officials said.