By the time authorities arrived, two men already lay beaten, bound and motionless in the city square.

The men, strangers to this central Mexican city, were suspected of trying to kidnap four local girls Wednesday - supposedly to sell their organs. One man in the square sharpened his machete on a metal railing.Omar Fayad, Hidalgo state attorney general, who was among the officials who arrived at the scene in the early morning hours Thursday, said: "I reached down and touched one of the men. I think he was already dead."

The authorities asked for the men to be handed over. The crowd - estimates ranged from 350 to 1,000 people - ignored them.

The 20 local police were vastly outnumbered - hundreds of reinforcements were somewhere en route from the capital, four hours down the highway - and they and the state officials had to retreat.

The mob finished its work.

Salvador Valdez and Jose Santos Vasquez were hanged in the city square. Santos, beaten badly, was probably dead before the rope was placed around his neck.

By Thursday afternoon, order was restored. Twenty suspects had been arrested - one charged, 19 held for questioning. Hundreds of state police guarded the city hall, jail and the court house, which residents had sacked and burned.

A throng of residents lingered nearby. Asked whether they thought the lynchings were just, dozens raised their hands affirmatively. None said they thought an injustice had been done.