Mexico captures suspect in US agent`s killing

Leaders of US and Mexico plan to meet amid tension over anti-drug strategy.

Last Updated: Feb 24, 2011, 14:21 PM IST

Mexico City: The Mexican Army captured an alleged suspect in the killing of a US federal agent, as the two countries` leaders planned to meet amid tension over their joint anti-drug strategy.

The suspect, named as Julian Zapata Espinosa, was identified as the "leader of a group of hitmen for the Zetas criminal group”, Defence Ministry spokesman Ricardo Trevino told journalists.

Jaime Zapata, 32, and a second agent for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Victor Avila, came under fire on February 15 while driving from the northern city of San Luis Potosi to Mexico City in a region plagued by drug violence.

Authorities said the suspect told them the US agents` armoured car had been confused with one belonging to a rival gang.

Two other men, including a Honduran, were also detained under suspicion of involvement in the attack, in raids on four buildings in San Luis Potosi that yielded 10 detainees.

After the arrest, US President Barack Obama phoned his Mexican counterpart Felipe Calderon and personally "thanked him for Mexican efforts to bring to justice the murderers”, the White House said in a statement.

The two countries launched a joint probe last week into the first killing of a US federal agent on Mexican soil since 1985.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano also welcomed the detentions and vowed to "continue to assist the ongoing Mexican investigation with every resource at our disposal”.

US and Mexican officials earlier announced that Obama would meet with Calderon in Washington on March 03.

Obama "is deeply committed to the strong partnership that the United States has with Mexico. That is the reason for the meeting," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

Zapata`s killing provoked outrage in the United States and fuelled tensions raised by a trickle of once-secret US diplomatic cables on Mexico published by WikiLeaks in recent weeks.

The cables criticised Mexico`s Army and coordination between security forces in the anti-crime crackdown that has marked Calderon`s presidency.

More than 34,600 people have been killed in rising drug-related violence in Mexico since December 2006, when Calderon`s government deployed soldiers and federal police to take on organised crime.

In an interview published on Tuesday in El Universal newspaper, Calderon accused top US diplomats of damaging the cross-border relationship following the comments revealed by WikiLeaks.

"They have done a lot of damage with the stories they tell and that, in truth, they distort," he said.

Calderon also complained that US agencies have often failed to work together, and repeated Mexican complaints that Washington has done little to stem the demand for drugs or the flow of weapons to Mexico`s drug gangs from the United States.

Bureau Report