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Mexican Ambush of Unarmed ICE Agents Planned and Premeditated: No 'Wrong Place at Wrong Time'

Mexican Ambush of Unarmed ICE Agents Planned and Premeditated: No 'Wrong Place at Wrong Time'

ICE Agent Zapata's vehicle after 'mistaken attack' by Mexican gunmen

What follows is the sequence of events that occurred on February 15th, 2011, and ended in the murder of ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata and in the shooting of Special Agent Victor Avila–evidence that the attack on two US federal agents was premeditated and planned, not a case of ‘being in the wrong place at the wrong time,’ or an incident triggered by the desire of the assailants to hijack a valuable vehicle.

ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata, 32, a four-year veteran of the agency, was the driver of the official government vehicle (OGV) in which the agents were traveling. Special Agent Victor Avila, his companion, rode in the passenger seat.

Both were on their way back to Mexico City when they noticed two large SUVs pull up next to them on the highway. Agents Zapata and Avila also noted that the occupants of these vehicles had long arms in their possession.

The vehicles, now known to have belonged to the gunmen, sped up ahead of the OGV carrying Zapata and Avila until they passed the agents and sped out of sight.

Shortly afterwards, however, Special Agents Zapata and Avila saw these same vehicles blocking both south lanes ahead of them, traveling at a speed slower than the normal traffic flow.

One of the vehicles driven by the Mexicans then dropped in behind the government owned vehicle driven by the ICE agents, while the other sped up and positioned itself in front of Zapata and Avila, blocking them in.

The ICE agents rammed into the gunman’s vehicle which had blocked them in front. The gunmen then exited–roughly eight Mexicans carrying long guns.

At that point, ICE Special Agent Zapata stopped the official government vehicle and put it in park, an action which unlocked the doors of the OGV.

Next, one of the assailants opened the driver’s door and tried to pull Special Agent Jaime Zapata out of the vehicle.

Zapata struggled with the assailant, and closed the driver’s side door of the OGV. At the same time, the passenger side window opened, letting gunmen  insert the muzzle of one long arm and one 9 mm pistol into the window space on the front passenger side where Avila sat.

The gunmen shouted for the ICE agents to exit their vehicle.

Although the agents identified themselves as ICE agents attached to the US Embassy in Mexico City, the Mexican gunmen began firing into the agents’ vehicle. Zapata put his vehicle in drive and sped off. A few moments later, Zapata slumped over, and the vehicle went off the road.

The Mexican gunmen then positioned themselves directly in front of the agents’ vehicle and began firing indiscriminately.

Special Agent Jaime Zapata died on the site, while Special Agent Victor Avila was seriously wounded.

Both ICE agents were unarmed, since Mexican law prohibits US law enforcement agents from carrying weapons in that country.

Reports suggest the Zetas, a notoriously violent cartel, were behind the ambush. Authorities are still investigating the possible involvement of other actors.

Mexico’s President Calderon, who is scheduled to visit the White House on March 3, has repudiated US diplomatic criticism revealed via WikiLeaks that suggests a lack of coordination among Mexico’s federal police, military and anti-drug agencies. According to Calderon, US diplomats misconstrued their analyses to “impress their bosses.”

In any case, Calderon states that no one is the US knows what he says to his Cabinet or other government officials, and that such information will remain, per the Brownsville Agreement, off-limits to US authorities.

“I don’t have to tell the U.S. ambassador how many times I meet with the security Cabinet or what I say,” Calderon said. “The truth is that it’s none of their business. I do not accept nor tolerate any kind of intervention.”



Kathleen Millar

Kathleen Millar began her career in public affairs working for Lyn Nofziger, White House Communications Director. She has gone on to write about a wide range of enforcement and security issues for DHS, for the US Department of the Treasury (Customs & Border Patrol), for Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), then a Member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and for top law enforcement officials in the United States and abroad.

A Founding Member of the Department of Homeland Security, Millar was also the deputy spokesperson-senior writer for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in Vienna, Austria. She has authored numerous speeches, articles and opeds under her own and client bylines, and her work, focusing on trafficking, terrorism, border and national security, has appeared in both national and international outlets, including The Washington Post, The Washington Times, The International Herald Tribune, The Financial Times, and Vital Speeches of the Day.

Kathleen Millar holds an MA from Georgetown University and was the recipient of a United Nations Fellowship, International Affairs, Oxford. She is a member of the Georgetown University Alumni Association, Women in International Security (GU), the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, and the American News Women’s Club in Washington, DC. Kathleen Millar is currently teaching and writing about efforts to combat transnational organized crime.