CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AFP) – US agents joined a probe into the brazen weekend killings at an American consulate in Mexico’s bloodiest city, highlighting rampant violence that prompted expressions of concern from both governments.
Officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) arrived in violence-plagued Ciudad Juarez to probe the fatal shootings of two American and a Mexican with ties to the US consulate — the first such attack in recent memory on American diplomatic personnel.
Mexican authorities blamed the drive-by murders of the American employee of the US consulate, her husband and the husband of a Mexican consular employee on “the Aztecas,” a gang linked to the powerful Juarez drug cartel.
But investigators said it was still unclear why the victims were singled out by hit teams who ambushed the two family groups just minutes apart Saturday after they left a birthday party in Ciudad Juarez.
“It could be a mistaken identity, it could be that they were targeted; we don’t know at this point,” said special agent Andrea Simmons of the FBI’s El Paso, Texas, office just across the border from Ciudad Juarez.
She said seven or eight FBI agents had joined the investigation, along with agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Meanwhile the bodies of the two Americans slain in the attacks were taken across the border to El Paso for post-mortem examinations.
Police on Monday also located the charred van in a residential section of Juarez which they believed was used in the hit job. The van, which had been reported stolen by its owners, was found about two kilometers (1.2 miles) from where the Saturday’s shooting took place on the outskirts of the city.
According to neighbors, the driver of the van, along with two hooded men who followed in separate vehicles, doused the car in gasoline and set it ablaze.
The shocking attacks, which occurred in broad daylight, came amid escalating violence in Juarez, where a raging drug war has claimed thousands of lives in the past few years.
Violence here ratcheted up almost from the start of President Felipe Calderon’s administration in December 2006, after his decision to deploy the military to crack down on drug traffickers who had operated for years with near impunity.
Calderon, who was due Tuesday to travel to the troubled border city for the third time in two months, reaffirmed Mexico’s “commitments to solve these crimes.”
“We will, as the secretary and president pledged, work tirelessly with Mexican authorities to bring the killers… to justice,” State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley said in Washington.
The State Department also updated its existing travel warnings, warning Americans against travel to northern Mexico and strongly cautioning American students against spending their spring break holidays in Mexico.
US officials moved to close the facility pending the outcome of a security review.
The shooting victims were identified as Lesley Enriquez, an American working at the consulate; her American husband, Arthur Redelfs; and Jorge Alberto Sarcido, the Mexican husband of another consular employee.
Enriquez and her husband were killed in a hail of bullets as they were driving back to the US side of the border with their one-year-old daughter in the back seat, officials said. The baby survived unharmed.
In a separate attack, gunmen opened fire on Sarcido’s car, killing him and wounding his two children, ages four and seven. His wife, a Mexican employee of the consulate, was following in a second car and escaped injury, a US official said.
President Barack Obama said Sunday he was “deeply saddened and outraged” by the killings, which marked an ominous turn in an already bloody war waged by the cartels on rivals and authorities.
More than 2,600 people were murdered in Ciudad Juarez in 2009 in drug-related violence as the cartels battle for control over the lucrative smuggling routes into the United States.
Drug-related violence claimed more than 100 lives across Mexico just last weekend, police data showed.
Among the hardest hit areas were Guerrero state, home to the major tourist destination of Acapulco, where the notorious “La Familia” drug cartel is active. There were 45 weekend murders in Guerrero, police said.
Damning CNN timeline shows how Trump ‘thinks white people matter more than nonwhite people’
CNN's Brianna Keilar on Monday delivered a damning verdict on President Donald Trump's racist attacks on Democratic lawmakers -- and she backed it up with a timeline of the president's bigoted words and actions.
During a segment about Trump’s weekend tweets, in which he told Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) to “go back” to their countries despite the fact that all four are American citizens, Keilar argued that the president's racism is part of a pattern of bigotry that's followed him throughout his life.
"This fits a pattern to the president who has long made it clear that he thinks white people matter more than nonwhite people, even if they're American," she said. "30 years ago he called for the death penalty for the Central Park Five, five minority youths who were falsely accused of rape. Trump [is] still refusing to believe their innocence 16 years after they were exonerated."
MSNBC host says Trump just openly embraced racists: ‘This actually feels different to me’
On Monday, President Donald Trump went on an unhinged rant against Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA).
In an often rambling question session with reporters, Trump repeatedly told the two Congresswomen to leave America (both are U.S. citizens) if they're so critical of the U.S. and Israel.
MSNBC host Ali Velshi observed that Trump had truly crossed the line and directly appealed to the sentiments of white nationalists.
MSNBC's @AliVelshi: This time "actually feels different to me. This feels like the president really owning the idea that he's saying things that are attractive to white nationalists and racists." pic.twitter.com/vtK1T3GHuU
World hunger on the rise with more than 820 million at risk, UN report says
More than 821 million people suffered from hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition worldwide last year, the United Nations reported Monday -- the third year in a row that the number has risen.
After decades of decline, food insecurity began to increase in 2015 and reversing the trend is one of the 2030 targets of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.
But getting to a world where no one is suffering from hunger by then remains an "immense challenge," the report said.
"The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World" was produced by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other UN agencies including the World Health Organization.