- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 15, 2011

One U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent assigned to an attache office in Mexico City was killed and a second agent wounded when shot Tuesday afternoon by unknown assailants while driving on a highway between Mexico City and Monterrey.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed Tuesday night that one agent who was critically wounded in the attack had died from his injuries, while the second agent shot in the arm and leg remained in stable condition.

Ms. Napolitano said U.S. law enforcement agencies were working closely with Mexican authorities who are investigating the shooting to “ensure the perpetrators of this unconscionable crime are captured as quickly as possible. She said only that the agents had been “shot in the line of duty … by unknown assailants.”

“Let me be clear: any act of violence against our ICE personnel — or any DHS personnel — is an attack against all those who serve our nation and put their lives at risk for our safety,” Ms. Napolitano said in a statement. “The full resources of our department are at the disposal of our Mexican partners in this investigation.”

The names of the agents was not released, and there was no information on the identity of the assailants or a motive for the attack. Nor was there immediate indication of whether the agents exchanged gunfire with the attackers or whether the attackers were hit.

The Mexican president’s office and Mexican immigration officials also said they had no information on the attack.

ICE Director John Morton said he was “deeply saddened to report that two of our agents assigned to the ICE Attache Office in Mexico City were shot today in the line of duty” and that one of them “has succumbed to his injuries.

“This is a difficult time for ICE and especially for the families and loved ones of our agents. Our hearts and prayers go out to them. This tragedy is a stark reminder of the risks confronted and the sacrifices made by our men and women every day,” Mr. Morton said. “We are working closely with our partners here in the United States and in Mexico to ensure those responsible for this senseless act are brought to justice.”

Violence across Mexico over the past few years involving turf fights between competing drug gangs has claimed more than 28,000 lives, although Americans in that country have seldom been targeted.

In March 2010, the murder of two U.S. citizens, including an employee at the U.S. Consulate, fueled concerns among U.S. officials that Americans were becoming fair game for Mexican drug gangs seeking control of smuggling routes into the U.S.

For more than two years, U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials have been warning that the dramatic rise in violence along the southwestern border could eventually target U.S. citizens and spread into this country. The officials said the violence posed a “serious threat” to law enforcement officers, first responders and residents along the 1,951-mile border.

The numbers bear out those concerns, according to the State Department: Seventy-nine U.S. citizens were killed in 2009 in Mexico, up from 35 in 2007. In Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas, 23 Americans were killed in 2009, compared with two in 2007.

The consulate victims were Lesley Enriquez, 25, who worked at the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, and her husband, Arthur Redelf, 30, both U.S. citizens. They were killed when Mexican drug gang members fired shots at their sport utility vehicle as they left a birthday party.

Mr. Redelf was a 10-year veteran of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office. Ms. Enriquez was four months pregnant with their second child. The couple’s 7-month-old daughter was found unharmed in the back seat.

That same day, Jorge Alberto Salcido, 37, a Mexican citizen whose wife also was an employee at the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, was killed when cartel members shot at his car at a separate location, also wounding his two young children. They had attended the same birthday party.

In September, Tiffany Hartley and her husband, David, were shot at by Mexican pirates chasing them in speedboats across Falcon Lake near Zapata, Texas, as they were returning on Jet Skis from a trip to photograph a historic church in Mexico. Mr. Hartley was fatally wounded, but his wife was able to escape.

Neither his body nor the Jet Ski has been recovered. Texas officials have warned boaters and fisherman that pirates frequent the Mexican side of the lake.

Three years ago, ICE — the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security — said in a report that border gangs were becoming increasingly ruthless and had begun targeting rivals and federal, state and local police. ICE said the violence had risen dramatically as part of “an unprecedented surge.”

The State Department has instituted several measures over the past year to protect consulate employees and their families. It has at times authorized the departure of relatives of U.S. government employees in northern Mexican cities.

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