San Luis Potosi, Mexico: Drug Cartel Hitmen Suspected In US Agents Shooting

16 Feb

Mexican drug gang hitmen were behind the shooting of two U.S. immigration and customs agents, the governor of the state where the men were attacked said on Wednesday.

Soldiers and federal police stand around two cars of U.S. Immigration and Customs …More Enlarge photo

Video: Mexico gunmen kill U.S. agent

One Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent was killed and a second was wounded in the suspected ambush on Tuesday, which comes against a backdrop of spiralling violence between Mexican security forces and drug cartels.

“There was an attack where drug gang members … tried to kill two U.S. officials on a federal highway,” San Luis Potosi state governor Fernando Toranzo said in a radio interview.

United States officials have warned the cartels in recent weeks against any attempt to bring their brutal tactics across the border and if a gang responsible for the attack on the agents is identified, U.S. intelligence work is likely to focus on trying to catch its leaders.

Washington has provided funds, training and political support for Mexican President Felipe Calderon‘s army-led strategy to crush the cartels and U.S. intelligence is believed to have played a major role in the killing or capture of several top leaders in recent years.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said U.S. law enforcement agencies were working closely with Mexican authorities to investigate the attack on the two agents.

The Mexican federal prosecutor’s office said it had not yet had the chance to interview the survivor, who has already been returned to the United States.

The two agents, who were travelling on Mexico’s main highway in an armoured vehicle with diplomatic licence plates, may have been ambushed at a fake security checkpoint, one Mexican official said.

The cartels have been known to set up official-looking checkpoints to trap rivals and kidnap targets. There were no government checkpoints in the area, he said.

One of the agents, who was shot five times in the abdomen and lower body, went into cardiac arrest while being rushed to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead, Felix Hernandez, the hospital’s medical director, told Reuters.

The other had bullet wounds in his right leg and lower abdomen. He was transferred out once he was stabilized.

ESCALATION?

The flag at the U.S. embassy in Mexico City, where both agents were assigned, was lowered to half mast on Wednesday.

More than 15,000 people were killed in drug violence in Mexico last year as fighting between the cartels and security forces spread to cities once considered distant from the front lines of the drug war, including Monterrey.

But attacks on U.S. officials in Mexico are rare. The targeting of U.S. agents would be a major escalation of the drug war.

Many details of the attack on the ICE agents were still unclear. ICE said on Wednesday the men were travelling from Monterrey to Mexico City, contradicting earlier reports they were travelling to Monterrey.

Two U.S. citizens and a Mexican linked to staff at the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez were killed in March last year, prompting the State Department to tighten security at its diplomatic missions in northern Mexico.

Officials have not said which of Mexico’s drug cartels may have been behind the latest attack, although many suspect the Zetas, a group led by renegade Mexican soldiers and widely seen as the most brutal of the gangs.

“The United States is going to have to make a quick evaluation of the security of its officials in Mexico. Was it wise for these agents to be travelling in a shiny black vehicle along a highway controlled by the Zetas?,” said Fred Burton of intelligence consultancy Stratfor.

(Additional reporting by Miguel Angel Gutierez, Anahi Rama and Mica Rosenberg in Mexico City, Robin Emmott in Monterrey, Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington and Tim Gaynor in Phoenix; Writing by Robert Campbell; Editing by Kieran Murray)

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Mexico drug gang shot U.S. agents – governor

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