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Mexico: Details murky in killing of US agent

Killing of Jaime Zapata is the highest-profile attack on a US agent in decades.

The circumstances around the shooting also need to be clarified.

According to reports, the agents were stopped at a roadblock in San Luis Postosi state by uniformed men — a technique often employed by criminal gangs to surprise their victims.

However, it has not been confirmed whether the agents were shot at point-blank range or whether they were shot trying to drive away from the shooters — which could explain how the second agent survived the attack.

Such details would explain much about the type of attackers — and whether they were highway bandits or a commando of assassins.

American agents have been allowed to work south of the border since former U.S. President Richard Nixon declared the war on drugs in 1969.

To protect Mexican sovereignty, they are not allowed to carry firearms. With 15,000 drug-related killings in Mexico last year alone, working unarmed in law enforcement here is increasingly difficult.

The Camarena case led to a decade of poor relations between the DEA and Mexican government amid accusations that police were involved in the murder.

However, political analyst David Shirk of San Diego’s Cross Border Institute says that U.S.-Mexico relations have improve enormously in the 25 years since then.

“I don’t think we will see the tensions we saw in the Camarena case,” Shirk said. “The United States and Mexico are working on the same priorities more than ever before. Both governments are going hard after drug gangs.”

In March 2010, gunmen shot dead three people linked to the American consulate in Ciudad Juarez in two separate attacks. The motives for that shooting are still unclear.

There have also been an increasing number of American civilians killed in northeast Mexico.

In January, missionary Nancy Shuman Davis was shot dead by gunmen several hundred miles north of the latest killing, while in October, American David Hartley was killed in the nearby Falcon Lake. Neither case has been solved.

The industrial northeast of Mexico has become one of the bloodiest spheres of the drug war as gunmen from the Zetas, Gulf Cartel, army and police fight daily battles.

This week alone has seen a grenade attack on shoppers, a single massacre of 18 people and dozens of other murders in the area.