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Mexico calls 2012 attack on U.S. Embassy vehicle a ‘crass error’

By Tim Johnson
McClatchy Foreign Staff

MEXICO CITY A 2012 incident in which Mexican federal police raked an armored U.S. Embassy vehicle with gunfire was the result of a “crass error” in judgment by the officers but was not an ambush ordered by organized crime, the nation’s top security czar said Wednesday.

In the Aug. 24, 2012, incident, federal police attacked a U.S. Embassy vehicle, riddling it with at least 152 rounds of assault weapons fire in what U.S. diplomats later termed an “ambush.”

The attack occurred along a mountain road southwest of the capital.

Speaking with foreign reporters, National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said the jailing of 14 former federal police following the incident was proof that Mexico did not sweep the shooting under the rug.

Rubido said the federal police in unmarked cars were patrolling an area near the hamlet of Tres Marias, where they had broken up a kidnapping ring a day earlier.

“Suddenly they saw a vehicle with characteristics unusual for that region. They ordered it to stop. They were not in uniform because they were conducting an investigation,” Rubido said.

“When the driver of the vehicle saw that armed people were ordering him to halt, he fled. But in a crass error, a crass error, the police began to shoot at the vehicle assuming that criminals were inside,” Rubido said.

The gray Toyota SUV had visible front and rear diplomatic license plates, and the attack occurred in daylight.

Inside were two U.S. officials, identified in U.S. and Mexican media reports as CIA employees, and a Mexican naval officer. All three men were injured in the attack. A separate unit of federal police arrived to defend the victims. The two Americans were hastily evacuated from Mexico.

Rubido acknowledged that suspicions arose that the federal police unit was working for organized crime active in mountainous Morelos state, known for drug trafficking and kidnapping groups.

“A deep investigation was conducted into why the police acted this way,” Rubido said, and “the overwhelming conclusion” was that the federal police were not linked to any organized crime group.

Since the police used what Rubido termed as “excessive force,” the men are now in jail awaiting trial on that charge. None have yet been convicted, he said.

“There are 14 police in prison, so you can see that there is no type of tolerance for this,” Rubido said.

A U.S. Embassy spokesman offered no immediate response to Rubido’s remarks on the 2012 incident.

Since 2008, U.S.-Mexican cooperation on anti-narcotics matters has soared, and multiple U.S. agencies help fight crime here under the Merida Initiative, an unprecedented partnership in which the U.S. Congress has appropriated $2.1 billion.

Some of the money goes to programs that vet federal police for honesty through periodic polygraph exams and probes into their character.

The government of President Enrique Pena Nieto has chalked up numerous victories against crime gangs since taking power in late 2012, including the Feb. 22 capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of the Sinaloa Cartel and widely considered one of the world’s biggest drug lords.

Email: tjohnson@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @timjohnson4
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