MEXICO CITY -- As questions persist surrounding the shooting by Mexican federal police of a diplomatic vehicle, and the wounding of two U.S. government employees inside, a new explanation is gaining traction.
Interior Minister Alejandro Poire, confirming a version floated by the police command, said this week the shooting came as the officers were investigating a kidnapping, and that they had mistook the vehicle occupants for suspects.
And now, the purported victim of that kidnapping has spoken out in defense of the police officers, who U.S. officials accused of "ambushing" their men, thought to be CIA operatives.
The police "risked their necks for me," the victim, Salvador Vidal Flores Perez, told Milenio TV in an interview program Wednesday night (link in Spanish). Flores was identified as the head of protocol and public relations for the National Institute of Anthropology and History, an agency that oversees museums and archaeological projects.
Flores said the police assisted him after the kidnappers released him in the wooded, hilly region south of Mexico City near where he lives and where the shooting of the Americans took place a day later.
"In those police, I found a friendly hand, professional and capable personnel, and they helped me out," he said. "That is why it is unfair, it is an outrage, it's incredible to me that they're going around saying those police are criminals."
Flores said he was kidnapped Thursday, Aug. 23, and driven around for hours while his captors attempted to demand ransom from his family. They released him after taking his credit cards, and he reported the crime to the police stationed in the area. Those same police, he said, mounted a number of operations to find the culprits.
The next day, Friday morning, police intercepted and opened fire on the diplomatic SUV, chasing it as it attempted to flee and pumping it full of more than 30 bullets. The two U.S. officials, who have not been formally identified, were wounded and quickly removed from the country. A Mexican marine captain accompanying them was not injured.
U.S. and Mexican officials said the men were traveling to a military base in the area for training exercises. Speculation immediately centered on two theories: either the cops made a mistake and thought they were firing on criminals, or they were corrupt officers working at the behest of organized criminal gangs who were attempting to steal the car and kidnap or kill its occupants.
U.S. officials, after first labeling the shooting an ambush, later said they do not believe the gunmen, whatever their motives, targeted the men because they were Americans.
Twelve police officers involved in the incident have been arrested and are undergoing interrogation.
The incident was especially troubling because cleaning up Mexico's notoriously police agencies is a pillar in the security strategy of President Felipe Calderon, and Washington is spending millions of dollars to help with the effort.
-- Tracy Wilkinson
Photo: Investigators inspect a U.S. diplomatic vehicle attacked by Mexican federal police south of Mexico City on Aug. 24, 2012. Credit: AFP/Getty Images