A US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent was killed and another wounded while driving through northern Mexico on Tuesday, in a rare attack on US officials in the country.
US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said one agent was critically wounded in the attack and died from his injuries. The second agent was shot in the arm and leg and remains in stable condition.
ICE Director John Morton late on Tuesday identified the slain agent as Jaime Zapata, who was on assignment from the office in Laredo, Texas, where he served on the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Unit as well as the Border Enforcement Security Task Force. The injured agent was not identified.
“I’m deeply saddened by the news that earlier today, two US Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agents assigned to the ICE attache office in Mexico City were shot in the line of duty while driving between Mexico City and Monterrey by unknown assailants,” Napolitano said.
US and Mexican officials said they were working closely together to investigate the shooting and find those responsible.
They did not give a motive for the attack.
“Let me be clear: any act of violence against our ICE personnel — or any DHS [Department of Homeland Security] personnel — is an attack against all those who serve our nation and put their lives at risk for our safety,” Napolitano said. “We remain committed in our broader support for Mexico’s efforts to combat violence within its borders.”
The two agents were driving in the northern state of San Luis Potosi when they were stopped at what may have appeared to be a military checkpoint, said one Mexican official, who could not be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the case. Mexican military officials said they have no checkpoints in the area.
After they stopped, someone opened fire on them, the official said.
San Luis Potosi police said gunmen attacked two people in a blue Suburban on Highway 57 between Mexico City and Monterrey, near the town of Santa Maria Del Rio, at about 2:30pm.
Police said one person was killed and another was flown to a Mexico City hospital, though they couldn’t confirm the victims were the ICE agents.
A US law enforcement source who was not authorized to speak on the case said the agent who died was on loan from Laredo, Texas.
Mexican Ambassador to the US Arturo Sarukhan spoke with Morton to express Mexico’s condolences, a spokesman said.
“This is a difficult time for ICE and especially for the families and loved ones of our agents. Our hearts and prayers go out to them. This tragedy is a stark reminder of the risks confronted and the sacrifices made by our men and women every day,” Morton said in a statement.
Zapata, who joined ICE in 2006, had also served as a member of the US Border Patrol in Yuma, Arizona. He was a native of Brownsville, Texas and graduated from the University of Texas at Brownsville in 2005. No age was given for Zapata.
Though Mexico is seeing record rates of violence from warring drug cartels, it is rare for US officials to be attacked. The US government, however, has become increasingly concerned about the safety of its employees in Mexico amid the escalating violence.