Sunday, February 26, 2012

Rolling down Mexico Highway 57, a door lock design change could have saved a life

Lack of an override switch gave Los Zetas hit squad all the advantage it needed

In recent weeks I have reported on the case of two U.S. federal agents who were attacked by a team of Los Zetas executioners on Feb. 15, 2011. They were on Mexican Highway 57, traveling from Monterrey to the Federal District, on official business. One of the agents died of multiple gunshot wounds minutes after the attack. The other survived. A gunmen who was part of the assault team, captured just days later by Mexican military forces, was extradited to the United States in December, where he faces murder and other charges. You can read the tragic details of this case, which I'll be monitoring in weeks ahead, here.

As I reported in my December post, the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents were in a government vehicle carrying U.S. diplomatic tags. But I didn't know what type of vehicle it was until an article in the Washington Post last week caught my eye. It was a fully armored $160,000 Chevrolet Suburban van, which is typical equipment for American agents working in Mexico. Designed to resist rapid velocity automatic weapons fire and even fragmentation grenade blasts, it operated perfectly -- with a critical limitation.

Two SUVs carrying the hit team boxed in the Suburban and forced it off the highway. They sprayed it with AK-47 fire, but the .9 mm rounds bounced harmlessly off the van; even the windows withstood the blast of a dozen or more machine guns. Unfortunately, when the engine died, the Suburban's door locks automatically popped up, just as they were factory designed to do. The sicarios -- whom the surviving agent described as "frenzied" (perhaps high on drugs) -- simply opened the doors.

Why did a door lock override switch not occur to someone? A dedicated young American agent would be alive today.

Two other interesting points. One of the AK-47s used in the brazen daylight attack was sold at a pawnshop in Beaumont, Texas to a Mexican gunrunner -- proving how easy it is for anyone to acquire military assault weapons in the U.S. The Post also reported that "sources close to the case" say the two ICE agents were armed. In previous articles I wrote that they were unarmed, because that's what other press sources have reported, and because it's illegal for active duty U.S. agents to bear arms while operating in Mexico. If they had weapons with them, the agents must have felt they were far outgunned anyway.

Feb. 14, 2013 - Family of ICE agent murdered by Los Zetas in Mexico sues U.S. government in Brownsville federal court

A postscript: A few weeks ago a well known Mérida English language website published a lengthy article for Americans traveling from the United States to Mexico by vehicle. As an instructional guide it's a great piece, with detailed and very helpful road directions. But the entire underlying premise of the article left me uncomfortable. The author, who has years of experience in Mexico and has apparently driven the country many times, gave the clear impression that driving here is about as safe as in the States. He referred to Highway 57 several times, without once mentioning what happened to these U.S. federal agents just 12 months ago. Probably he's totally unaware of the case. I shiver thinking of uninformed Americans traveling by car through northern and central Mexico, even on major roads like Highway 57. Consider carefully the news and informational sources upon which you rely.

Los Zetas accused killer makes his first appearance in D.C. federal court:
Los Zetas boss linked to 2011 attack against U.S. ICE agents is arrested:
Accused Zeta killer of U.S. ICE agent returns to D.C. federal court:

U.S. issues new travel alert for Mexico:
Highwaymen clean out Cancún-bound ADO bus:

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