Mexican drug gang Zetas suspected in US special agent killing
The Mexico drug gang known for its brutal tactics is the initial suspect in Tuesday's attack on two US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Mexican and US security experts, some with inside information, suspect the Zetas in the killing of an American special agent this week, a prospect that could complicate investigations due to the Mexican drug gang's brutal yet sophisticated tactics.Skip to next paragraph
Further knotting the matter, experts say it is not entirely clear if the gunmen were operating independently or on orders from commanders when they opened fire Tuesday on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agents Jamie Zapata and Victor Avila, who were driven off the road between the violent city of Monterrey and Mexico City in the state of San Luis Potosí. Mr. Zapata died from his injuries, and Mr. Avila suffered leg wounds.
Former ICE Deputy Director Alonzo Pena, who has knowledge of the investigation, says the Zetas gang is an initial suspect. He says investigators will need to exploit informants from rival drug cartels to lead them to those responsible, and will then go after all those who had “any role, any participation in that cowardly act."
“The Zetas have a lot of enemies,” Mr. Pena tells the Monitor from San Antonio, where he recently retired after working for ICE, including a stint as its Mexico City representative. “Hopefully their rivals will find ways to get information to us about them, about how they are operating.”
Hurdles to finding killers
However, he adds, the gang's well-known intimidation tactics of beheadings and gruesome killings, as well as their extensive weaponry, may make it difficult to convince potential informants to step forward.
Another hurdle for investigators might be the increasingly splintered nature of Mexico's gangs. President Felipe Calderón has waged a four-year military campaign that has successfully captured or killed a number of drug lords, breaking up some of their internal chain-of-command and causing splinter groups to form.
“There are cells that sometimes operate on their own and might’ve easily done something without asking for permission from above,” says Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “It makes it both harder to track them down and harder to hold someone accountable.”