June 28, 2014 in Nation/World

Mexican police copter crosses border; shots just miss U.S. agents

Richard A. Serrano McClatchy-Tribune

WASHINGTON – A Mexican law enforcement helicopter crossed into U.S. airspace and fired two shots, just missing American Border Patrol agents and prompting a quick apology from Mexican authorities in what is the second incursion this year of Mexican forces into United States territory, U.S. law enforcement officials said Friday.

The incident, now the subject of an FBI criminal investigation, occurred about 5:45 a.m. Thursday in southern Arizona, about 100 yards north of the U.S.-Mexico border, as Mexican law enforcement officers were chasing kidnapping suspects trying to escape into the United States, U.S. officials said.

No one was injured, U.S. officials said, but gunfire came within 15 yards of two U.S. Border Patrol agents and their vehicle near the town of San Miguel, Arizona.

According to U.S. agents, Mexican authorities immediately apologized and said the shots were a mistake. But Mexican officials disputed the American version of events, saying their officers had not fired and the gunshots had come from the suspects.

In a similar incursion in January, two heavily armed Mexican soldiers crossed into Arizona near the same spot and drew their weapons on U.S. Border Patrol officers. No one was injured in that incident either, and Mexican soldiers retreated back across the border.

Mexican authorities called the January incident an “isolated and unintended occurrence,” saying soldiers simply didn’t see signs marking the border crossing. They also said that U.S. law enforcement officials occasionally cross into Mexico as well.

In the latest incident, Tomas Zeron, director of the criminal investigations division of Mexico’s federal attorney general’s office in Mexico City, denied that shots were fired from the helicopter and that instead the aircraft was fired upon by Mexican smugglers on the ground.

“I don’t think we crossed the border because we had our navigators along,” Zeron said at a news conference.

Zeron said the Mexican federal police and the army were involved in an operation near the Arizona border to rescue 39 migrants who had been kidnapped by drug cartel operatives. The operation took place at a ranch called La Sierrita, in the town of Altar in Sonora state, about 150 yards from the border, Zeron said.

FBI agents in Arizona have launched a criminal investigation to determine why the shots were fired so close to the U.S. agents, a U.S. official said.

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