EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Police in southern Chihuahua state are investigating the execution-style murder of three men and two women whose bound bodies were found inside a vehicle near a van transporting dozens of Central American migrants.

The migrants were alive and rescued by police near the Jimenez-Gomez Palacios Highway. Mexican media said the five shooting victims are suspected smugglers believed to have been “taken out” by rivals or members of a drug cartel. The latter in recent months have increasingly and violently tried to take over the migrant-smuggling trade from independent operators.

A spokesman for the Chihuahua Attorney General’s Office on Monday said he could not comment on the investigation. He said the victims had their hands tied behind their backs and were shot to death.

Initial news reports said 16 Honduran migrants were found locked inside the van, but AG’s spokesman Enrique Rodriguez said more than two dozen citizens of Honduras and Guatemala were found wandering near the highway.

“We are taking their statements to see if they can help with the investigation. We are still waiting for the autopsy results on the victims. I can say they were shot,” Rodriguez told Border Report.

A representative of the state’s Human Rights Commission met with several of the rescued migrants over the weekend, including a 16-year-old boy and two adults who don’t speak Spanish, Diario de Chihuahua reported. The migrants are to be repatriated.

This would be at least the third incident in the past two months in the border state of Chihuahua involving violent attacks against migrant smugglers.

In late September, a group of heavily armed men intercepted a truck carrying 14 migrants south of the Presidio, Texas-Ojinaga, Mexico border. The men allegedly beat up two smugglers and took the 13 adult migrants, according to a boy who was going with the migrants to work in Odessa, Texas, and escaped the assailants. The 13 migrants and the smugglers are still missing.

In October, a shootout in South Juarez left an alleged smuggler dead and a Honduran migrant injured. The assailants commandeered the vehicle the smuggler was driving and took off with three Hondurans inside.

Former Chihuahua Attorney General Cesar Augusto Peniche earlier told Border Report that drug cartels such as La Linea are aggressively moving to take over the migrant smuggling trade in Chihuahua and were going as far as kidnapping and murdering independent operators to achieve their goal.