MEXICO CITY — Fourteen officers in Mexico’s federal police force have been formally charged with the attempted murder of a pair of American CIA operatives who were attacked in their armored SUV in August on a road south of the capital, federal prosecutors said Friday.
In a statement, prosecutors said the officers’ actions were deliberate, alleging that they “intended to take the lives of two functionaries from the United States Embassy in Mexico,” as well as a member of the Mexican navy who was traveling with them through dangerous country on their way to a Mexican military training facility.
But in a phone interview, a spokesman for the prosecutors’ office left open the possibility that the attack could have been the result of a mixup, and not something more sinister.
“At this moment there are various lines of investigation,” said Jose Luis Manjarrez, including the officers’ “alleged relationship with organized crime,” but also the possibility that their attack was the result of "confusion."
Manjarrez added that the question of motive was “part of the investigation,” and would eventually be presented in court.
The attack has raised troubling questions here about the competence and trustworthiness of a federal police force that outgoing President Felipe Calderon has been trying to clean up and strengthen as his nation struggles in its fight against the powerful drug cartels.
Prosecutors allege the officers, all of them based out of a station in Mexico City, acted deceptively when confronted by investigators. They were in plain clothes and driving civilian vehicles when they approached the Toyota Land Cruiser, which had diplomatic license plates, and riddled it with 152 bullets.
But when the officers initially appeared before prosecutors, they showed up in their squad cars and had changed into their uniforms — “thereby encouraging the concealment of the cars that they had, and simulating a circumstance that turned out to be false,” the statement said.
Mexican officials said the investigation was carried out with the “close collaboration” of the federal police and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
-- Richard Fausset and Cecilia Sanchez
Photo: Forensic personnel check a U.S. diplomatic vehicle attacked with gunfire in the Tres Marias–Huitzilac highway in Morelos, Mexico, in August. Credit: Nuvia Reyes / AFP/Getty Images