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Mexico faults U.S. in border suspect’s release

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Mexican law-enforcement authorities released from jail a man suspected of running over and killing a U.S. Border Patrol agent during an aborted drug-smuggling attempt because U.S. officials never asked that he be held or sought his extradition during the five months he was in custody, the Mexican Embassy in Washington said Monday.

Jesus Navarro Montes, 22, was detained Jan. 22 by Mexican state and federal authorities in the town of El Yaqui in the northern state of Sonora in connection with the killing three days earlier of Border Patrol Agent Luis Aguilar Jr. He was released from custody on June 18, a week before the U.S. government presented Mexico with a "provisional arrest request" for his extradition.

Mexican Embassy spokesman Ricardo Alday said Mr. Navarro's release was ordered by Mexicali Federal Judge Laura Serrano Alderete after she ruled against pending and unrelated smuggling charges against Mr. Navarro, saying Mexican authorities who brought the case lacked jurisdiction. At the time, no U.S. request was on file to hold Mr. Navarro on any other charges, Mr. Alday said.

"Although we had asked the U.S. government a couple of times before his release to help us deal with the matter so we could hold Mr. Navarro, we got nothing whatsoever. The U.S. response never came," Mr. Alday said.

"No arrest warrant was presented, no evidence was offered and no one from the U.S. government contacted Mexican authorities concerning his extradition," he said. "We couldn't hold him with no evidence of a crime. We needed help, but we never got it."

Mr. Alday said federal officials in Mexico City were not aware of the release until after it occurred, and the Mexican attorney general's office has since issued an order that Mr. Navarro be located and detained. He also said Mexican federal officials appealed the ruling in Mr. Navarro's immigration case.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr on Monday declined to discuss the case.

"We appreciate and understand the intense public interest this matter has generated. Since the day Border Patrol Agent Luis Aguilar was killed, the Justice Department has remained fully committed to the investigation of his death," said Mr. Carr. "As with all ongoing criminal investigations, however, we cannot provide details with respect to the nature and timing of possible charges against any possible defendant or defendants.

"With respect to the separate issue of extradition proceedings, the Justice Department does not comment publicly upon the underlying charges or the evidence supporting a possible extradition of a citizen from another nation," he said.

The U.S. attorney's office in San Diego, which has been in charge of the Aguilar prosecution, has referred inquiries to the Justice Department.

Rep. Brian P. Bilbray, California Republican and chairman of the Immigration Reform Caucus, asked President Bush and Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to "provide a full accounting" of the circumstances behind Mr. Navarro's release and Justice Department efforts to have him returned to the United States.

"We understand there is an ongoing investigation; however, the information we are seeking should be publicly available as we are looking into the process of investigation and communication with the Mexican authorities," Mr. Bilbray said in letters to Mr. Bush and Mr. Mukasey, co-signed by 38 House members.

"The Aguilar family deserves answers, and the administration should provide them in the most transparent way," he said.

Mr. Bilbray said the caucus wants "an explanation and an accounting" from Mr. Bush and Mr. Mukasey about what communication took place between U.S. and Mexican authorities concerning the release.

He said he also wants to know whether the Justice Department sought Mr. Navarro's extradition and if so, when, and if not, why not.

Mr. Aguilar was killed as he tried to lay spike strips on a highway near the Imperial Sand Dunes in California, 20 miles west of Yuma, Ariz., to stop at least two vehicles fleeing from Border Patrol agents and back into Mexico.

"Agent Aguilar was killed in a heinous act of violence ... while attempting to stop two vehicles that illegally entered the country and were absconding into Mexico," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said June 25 in denouncing Mr. Navarro's release. "We are working with a determined Mexican government, and our Department of Justice, to seek swift justice for the Aguilar murder."

In January, the Mexican Embassy, which announced Mr. Navarro's arrest, said a preliminary investigation found that he left Mexicali and was headed for the U.S. "driving a Hummer vehicle, presumably carrying drugs." The embassy said that as Border Patrol agents tried to stop the vehicle, "Agent Aguilar was run down, and Mr. Navarro fled the scene back to Mexican territory."

On Monday, Mr. Alday said the initial information the Mexican government had was based on what it was told, not on any evidence that was provided. He said Mexican authorities are "working cooperatively" with the U.S. in a hunt for Mr. Navarro, whose whereabouts is unknown.

"Once he's located, the arrest warrant based upon the provisional request for extradition purposes will be executed," he said.

Agent Aguilar, 32, was a six-year Border Patrol veteran assigned at the agency's Yuma sector office. He was married and the father of two children.

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