Two American employees at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and a Mexican naval officer were attacked while traveling in Mexico on Aug. 24, in the third attack against U.S. diplomats in Mexico in two and a half years. The Mexican Secretary of the Navy, known as SEMAR, has confirmed that Mexican federal police fired on the embassy vehicle as part of the gun battle, and as of this recording, 12 Mexican federal police are in custody for attempted murder.
The details of the case are still under investigation, but the incident reportedly began around 8 o'clock in the morning. The group was traveling to a Mexican naval facility, using a fully armored Toyota Land Cruiser with diplomatic license plates, when three vehicles full of gunmen reportedly approached. Once the gunmen were visible, the driver of the embassy vehicle began to take evasive maneuvers and swerved off the highway. Damage to the right front corner of the vehicle appears to indicate that the driver may have rammed one of the attacking vehicles. A gun battle ensued
Once the shooting began, the Mexican marine called Mexican authorities for support. Federal police arrived on the scene and began shooting. Even though the group was traveling in an armored vehicle, the two U.S. Embassy officials were wounded, possibly due to the concentrated fire that was able to penetrate the vehicle’s armor. The two Americans were taken to the hospital by federal police and are now in stable condition.
The motive for this attack is still unclear, but there are a few distinct possibilities that we're investigating.
First, an organized criminal organization may have initiated the attack as an attempt to steal the high-end Toyota Land Cruiser. Once the firefight began, Mexican federal police came onto the scene and responded by firing on everyone involved. The police may have mistakenly believed the Land Cruiser was part of a criminal group engaged in a gun battle, rather than a diplomatic vehicle under attack.
Second, this may be a case of mistaken identity on the part of the attackers. Because Land Cruisers are frequently used by criminal groups in Mexico, one criminal organization may have missed the diplomatic license plates and believed the vehicle was a rival cartel within its turf, prompting the confrontation. There has been a slight uptick in violence in Morelos state in recent weeks, as criminal groups are attempting to incur into rival territory. This increases the likelihood of mistaken identity, both on the part of the criminal groups and law enforcement.
Last, Mexican federal police may have intentionally started the ambush, either as part of a corrupt criminal scheme, or because the police had reason to believe the diplomat's Land Cruiser was a legitimate target or engaged in criminal activity.
Regardless of the motive behind the attack, this firefight demonstrates the increasing fog of the cartel war, as it’s now very difficult to distinguish friend from foe, especially when the rounds begin to fly.