CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico – U.S. agents on Tuesday probed the deadly attacks on U.S. consular staff and their families in Mexico's bloodiest city, that brought condemnation from both governments.
Mexican authorities have blamed the drive-by murders in the notorious border city of Ciudad Juarez on "the Aztecas," a gang linked to the powerful Juarez drug cartel.
U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Administration and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents are in Ciudad Juarez helping to hunt the killers of an American employee of the US consulate, her husband and the husband of a Mexican consular employee.
Investigators said it was still unclear why they were singled out by hit teams who ambushed two family groups just minutes apart Saturday after they left a birthday party.
"It could be a mistaken identity, it could be that they were targeted; we don't know at this point," said special agent Andrea Simmons of the FBI's El Paso, Texas, office.
The bodies of the two Americans slain in the attacks were taken across the border to El Paso for post-mortem examinations.
Police on Monday also located the charred van that they believed was used by the killers. The van, which had been reported stolen by its owners, was found about two kilometers (just over a mile) from where the shootings took place on the outskirts of Ciudad Juarez.
According to neighbors, the driver of the van, along with two hooded men who followed in separate vehicles, doused the car in gasoline and set it ablaze.
The broad daylight attacks, came amid escalating violence in Juarez, where a drug war has claimed thousands of lives in the past few years.
More than 2,600 people were murdered here last year alone, as cartels battle for control over the lucrative smuggling routes into the United States.
Last weekend, drug-related violence claimed more than 100 lives across Mexico. Police data showed 20 of them were in Ciudad Juarez.
Among the hardest hit areas was Guerrero state, which has the tourist resort of Acapulco, where the notorious "La Familia" drug cartel is active. There were 45 weekend murders in Guerrero, police said.
Violence in Mexico soared almost from the start of President Felipe Calderon's administration in December 2006 after he deployed the military to crack down on drug traffickers. Since then over 15,000 people have died, according to government figures.
Calderon, who was to travel to Ciudad Juarez on Tuesday, for the third time in two months, reaffirmed Mexico's "commitments to solve these crimes."
"We will, as the secretary and president pledged, work tirelessly with Mexican authorities to bring the killers... to justice," US State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley said in Washington.
The State Department also updated warnings against travel to northern Mexico. It strongly cautioned American students against spending their spring break holidays in Mexico.
The shooting victims were identified as Lesley Enriquez, an American working at the consulate; her American husband, Arthur Redelfs; and Jorge Alberto Sarcido, the Mexican husband of another consular employee.
Enriquez and her husband were killed in a hail of bullets as they were driving back to the US side of the border with their one-year-old daughter in the back seat, officials said. The baby survived unharmed.
In a separate attack, gunmen opened fire on Sarcido's car, killing him and wounding his two children, ages four and seven. His wife, a Mexican employee of the consulate, was following in a second car and escaped injury, a US official said.
President Barack Obama said Sunday he was "deeply saddened and outraged" by the killings.
© AFP 2013