The recent shooting of CIA agents in Mexico may have been an assassination attempt by organized criminal groups, according to a US official who spoke to the Associated Press, while Mexican authorities are investigating whether the Beltran Leyva Organization was behind the attack.

The Associated Press (AP) spoke to a US official with knowledge of the investigation who said that the August attack appeared to have been targeted. “That’s a ‘We are specifically trying to kill the people in this vehicle’” operation, “This is not a ‘Whoops, we got the wrong people.’” He said there was strong circumstantial evidence that the officers who carried out the attack were linked to organized crime.

On October 2, a Mexican official told the AP that prosecutors were investigating whether the 12 federal police involved in the incident had ties to the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO).

Two Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agents were driving with a Mexican Navy captain in the state of Morelos, central Mexico, on August 24 when they were stopped by federal police officers, who began firing. They tried to drive away, but were chased by a further three unmarked vehicles containing federal officers, none of whom were in uniform. Both US agents were injured.

The Mexican government stated after the attack that the police might have mistaken the occupants of the vehicle for suspects in a local kidnapping case.

According to the Mexican official who spoke to the AP, the Beltran Leyva angle is based on the theory that the gang’s lookouts had seen the car passing through the area a number of times and believed it to be linked to investigations into the BLO. They may not have known there were US citizens inside, the official stated.

InSight Crime Analysis

The AP report comes four days after La Jornada reported that US officials believed the BLO could be behind the attack, but that the motives were not known. Mexican military sources who spoke to the paper stated that if the BLO were involved, revenge could not be ruled out as a motive. The injured CIA agents had been working with the Mexican Navy for over three years, the sources stated, and the United States’ involvement in the killing of BLO leader Arturo Beltran Leyva in December 2009 was well known.

While the BLO has a history of official infiltration at the highest levels — former Mexican drug czar Noe Ramirez was arrested in 2008 for being on the cartel’s payroll, and four high-ranking military officials were detained this year for allegedly working with the group — they have been severely weakened in recent years. The BLO broke an alliance with the Sinaloa Cartel in 2008, precipitating a bloody battle. What’s more, since the death of Arturo they have lost numerous high-level commanders, including Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias “La Barbie,” and Sergio Villarreal, alias “El Grande.”

Given the group’s decline, it is worth questioning if they have the power to carry out such a brazen hit. However, there are factors that make this more plausible. Morelos is one of the BLO’s main strongholds, and the BLO have formed an alliance with the powerful Zetas.

Despite being the country’s premier law enforcement agency, meant to be less corrupt than their state and municipal counterparts, the Federal Police are not immune from criminal infiltration. Ten percent of the force was fired two years ago for failing tests meant to detect corruption, and a shootout at Mexico City’s International Airport between federal officers in July shows narco-corruption is still a problem. It is plausible that the federal officers implicated in the CIA shooting were working with a criminal group, especially in light of their lack of uniforms and marked vehicles.

The Mexican government has refused to speculate on the organized crime theory, citing the fact that the investigation is ongoing. This latest round of claims, on top of those made in the aftermath of the attack by anonymous Navy officials who said that it was intentional, will put more pressure on the authorities.

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