The Mexico killings drew immediate criticism from the White House.
National Security Council spokesperson Mike Hammer said in a statement Sunday that President Obama “is deeply saddened and outraged by the news of the brutal murders of three people associated with the United States Consulate General in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, including a US citizen employee, her US citizen husband, and the husband of a Mexican citizen employee.”
The deaths of the US citizens come amid a staggering death toll that increasingly includes those with no apparent ties to drug gangs. In January, a massacre at a teen birthday party killed 15, most of them young people with no known involvement in drug trafficking.
It was unclear whether the victims Saturday were specific targets, as details of the case are still limited. But their fate will certainly add to a sense of helplessness in Ciudad Juarez, where a third of drug-related murders in Mexico last year played out despite the fact that troops and federal police have surged into the city, patrolling streets and running continuous checkpoints.
Residents fed up
Residents say they are fed up with the impunity that reigns in Juarez for drug cartels.
The massacre in January led to mass protests against the military strategy of Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who has sent 45,000 federal authorities throughout Mexico to combat organized crime since assuming office in December 2006. Many say that has led only to more insecurity, especially in Juarez.
A US official told Agence France-Presse that the victims Saturday were hit in two separate incidents while driving in Ciudad Juarez. “Suspected drug cartel hit teams fired on locally employed [consulate] staff ... in their privately owned vehicles,” the official, on condition of anonymity, told the wire service.
Families of US staff can leave
On Sunday the US State Department authorized the temporary departure of dependents of US personnel in the consulates of northern Mexico, including in Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey, and Matamoros – not just because of the incident in Juarez, but because of violence mounting along the border.
“We will continue to work with Mexican President Felipe Calderón and his government to break the power of the drug trafficking organizations that operate in Mexico and far too often target and kill the innocent,” read Mr. Hammer’s statement.
The US had already discouraged travel to spots in Mexico plagued by drug violence. On Saturday, shootings along the Pacific coast, including near the spring break refuge of Acapulco, killed 24 people.