CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) - Gunmen in the drug war-plagued Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez killed two Americans and a Mexican linked to the local U.S. consulate, an attack U.S. President Barack Obama said “outraged” him.
An American woman working at the consulate in Ciudad Juarez, just over the border from El Paso, Texas, and her U.S. husband were fatally shot by suspected drug gang hitmen in broad daylight on Saturday as they left a consulate social event, U.S. and Mexican officials told Reuters.
A Mexican man married to another consulate employee was killed around the same time in another part of the city after he and his wife left the same event, a U.S. official said.
The U.S. official, who asked not to be identified, said it was not clear if the victims had been specifically targeted, and the motive for the attacks was unknown.
Bloodshed has exploded in recent months in Ciudad Juarez as the head of the Juarez cartel, Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, fights off a bloody offensive by Mexico’s No. 1 fugitive drug lord, Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, at the worst hotspot of Mexico’s three-year-old drug war.
“The president is deeply saddened and outraged by the news,” said White House National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer. He said Obama “shares in the outrage of the Mexican people at the murders of thousands in Ciudad Juarez and elsewhere in Mexico.”
The U.S. State Department updated its warning on travel to Mexico to say it had authorized the departure of dependents of U.S. government personnel from consulates in Ciudad Juarez and five other northern border cities.
Nearly 19,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon came to power in Mexico in late 2006 and launched a military assault on the country’s powerful drug cartels, sparking a surge in violence that has alarmed Washington, foreign investors and tourists.
Most victims are rival traffickers and police, and to a lesser extent soldiers, local officials and bystanders. It is rare for drug gang hitmen to target foreigners.
“The Mexican authorities are determined to clarify what happened and bring those responsible to justice,” the Mexican Foreign Ministry said of Saturday’s attacks.
The attack on the U.S. couple began with a car chase and ended in front of the main border crossing into El Paso, an area heavily patrolled by soldiers, local newspaper El Diario reported. The couple’s baby girl survived the attack.
The Mexican spouse was murdered in an upscale neighborhood of the city when gunmen boxed in his car with other vehicles and shot him, according to a local newspaper photographer who soon arrived at the scene. His wife, who was following in a second car, was unhurt, but their two children were wounded.
Calderon was already scheduled to visit Ciudad Juarez on Tuesday, his third trip there in a month, as he scrambles to find a way to deal with a surge in killings that 8,000 troops and federal police on the ground have failed to curb.
The drug war has killed more than 4,600 people in the key manufacturing city in two years, and constant scenes of bullet-ridden vehicles and bodies lying in pools of blood have prompted many middle-class residents to flee.
Across Mexico, drug war violence is at its worst level ever, and many U.S. students have heeded warnings not to cross the border this year for their annual “spring break” vacation.
A burst of drug gang clashes killed at least 27 people -- including four who were beheaded -- this weekend in or near the Pacific resort of Acapulco, one of many popular with spring breakers.
At least 13 were killed on Saturday and at least 14 on Sunday, police said, including nine men who were killed in a shootout and a young woman shot as she drove by in a taxi.
Obama voiced his support for Calderon’s drug war during a visit to Mexico last year, but the rising violence along the border with Mexico has become a big concern for Washington.
Additional reporting by Caren Bohan; writing by Noel Randewich; editing by Catherine Bremer and Mohammad Zargham