November 9, 2012 / 9:10 PM / in 5 years

UPDATE 1-Mexico charges 14 federal police in attack on CIA officers

* Mexican officers already in police custody
    * Authorities keep open mind to drug links
    * Incident was major embarrassment for Calderon

    By Gabriel Stargardter
    MEXICO CITY, Nov 9 (Reuters) - Mexico charged 14 federal
police officers on Friday with the attempted murder of two CIA
operatives after the U.S. agents' vehicle was sprayed with
bullets in a brazen daylight attack that security officials
suspect was ordered by a drug cartel.
    The ambush was initially blamed on a case of mistaken
identity, but Mexican security sources said the fact that police
officers used AK47 assault rifles and were not wearing uniforms
suggested a gang-orchestrated hit.
    The August incident, in which the CIA operatives tried to
escape the hail of semi-automatic gunfire in a dramatic car
chase, was a major embarrassment for the government of outgoing
President Felipe Calderon, who has staked his reputation on
taming the cartels.
    The CIA officers' diplomatic vehicle was peppered with 152
bullet holes. Their injuries were not life-threatening and they
were quickly moved out of the country. 
    The attorney general's office said it charged the 14 federal
police officers with attempted murder. "We're not discounting
any theory, including that they could be involved with organized
crime," an official said on condition of anonymity.
    The 14 police officers come from the southern Mexico City
district of Tlalpan and were already in police custody, the
statement said.
    Drug cartels often take advantage of low pay for Mexican
police to infiltrate their ranks and put officers on the
    "The reputation of our police was already at rock bottom,
and this doesn't help one bit," said Maximiliano Moyano, a
criminal lawyer who works on police corruption cases.
    The incident was the worst attack against U.S. officials in
Mexico since drug-gang assailants killed a U.S. immigration
agent and wounded his colleague in a highway attack in early
    The August attack took place near the town of Tres Marias on
a road south of Mexico City, and came as increased cooperation
between U.S. and Mexican forces seemed to be yielding results in
Calderon's six-year offensive against the bloody cartels.
    Since 2009, government troops have caught or killed more
than 20 major drug lords. But that has led to cartel infighting
and fragmentation, and recent drug war victories have been
offset by humiliating cases of corruption and bungled
    A June shootout between federal police and corrupt fellow
officers at Mexico City's airport killed three officers. 
    That was followed by last month's killing of Zetas cartel
leader Heriberto Lazcano, a significant victory for Calderon
that was undermined by the late-night theft of Lazcano's body
from a funeral home, fueling rumors the kingpin was still alive.
    About 60,000 people have died in drug violence during
Calderon's term, and the bloodshed hurt his party's candidate in
the presidential election in July. 
    President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, who takes office on Dec.
1, says his priority will be to reduce violence and focus first
on tackling crimes like extortion and kidnapping.
    But Pena Nieto, who is leading the Institutional
Revolutionary Party, or PRI, back into power after a 12-year
hiatus, has rejected negotiating with the gangs, mindful of the
PRI's past reputation for cutting deals.
    "Calderon hands over to Pena Nieto a very problematic
situation, but with one main advantage: it seems that violence
at the national level is starting to trend downwards," said
Eduardo Guerrero, a security analyst with Lantia Consultores in
Mexico City. 
    Despite the Tres Marias attack and a new government taking 
office, analysts do not expect drug-fighting collaboration
between Mexico City and Washington to change drastically.
    "Mexico's relationship with the United States is very
institutionalized," said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst at
the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness.

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