MEXICO CITY — Mexican federal police fired on a U.S. Embassy vehicle and wounded two U.S. government employees Friday after their vehicle drove into a rural, mountainous area outside the capital where the officers were looking for criminals, Mexican and U.S. officials said.
The two embassy employees were hospitalized, one with a leg wound and the other hit in the stomach and hand, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Hospital officials in Cuernavaca, the nearest city, said they were taken in the afternoon to Mexico City for treatment. The U.S. Embassy said in a statement they were in stable condition.
The embassy did not release the names of the victims, and only said its vehicle, also carrying a Mexican Navy captain, was ambushed by a group of armed men.
The Navy said in a written statement that federal police shot the U.S. vehicle, but its description of the incident left out key details of how the shooting occurred. It said at least four vehicles opened fire on the Americans' sport utility vehicle on a road south of Mexico City, but did not make clear if any of the four carried federal police officers.
A U.S. official who was briefed on the shooting said, however, that all the shots were fired by federal police, of which at least 12 officers were being held for questioning by Mexican authorities. The U.S. Embassy employees were on their way to do training or related work at a nearby military base, the official said.
"Apparently the police were looking for some bad guys and they ran into each other," said the official, who agreed to discuss the incident only if not quoted by name. "It looks like it was just a bad mistake ... they just shot and kept shooting."
The Navy said the embassy personnel were heading down a dirt road to the military installation when a carload of gunmen opened fire on them and chased them and a Navy captain accompanying them. The shooting broke out in an area that has been used by common criminals, drug gangs and leftist rebels in the past.
The Americans' vehicle tried to escape, but three other cars joined the original vehicle in pursuing them down the road, the statement said. Occupants of all four vehicles fired, and the Navy captain called more help, it said. Federal police officers and Mexican soldiers then showed up on the road, the statement said.
The U.S. vehicle appeared to be armored and it had diplomatic plates.
The Mexican government official said the wounded were not agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration or FBI, but did not identify which agency they work for.
"We are working with Mexican authorities to investigate an incident this morning in which two employees of our Embassy in Mexico City came under attack by unknown assailants. They are receiving appropriate medical care and are in stable condition. We have no further information to share at this time," said Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman in Washington.
The Mexican naval captain in the vehicle was not injured.
The vehicle was riddled with bullets, most concentrated around the passenger-side window.
The scene of the shooting, near the resort city of Cuernavaca, was cordoned off and guarded by more than 100 heavily armed marines and soldiers, and the highway was closed. Investigators examined what appeared to be shell casings.
U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Democrat from Texas who closely follows the affairs with Mexico, said both countries appeared to be working together to find out what went wrong.
"If the Mexicans are cooperating with U.S. officials to find out exactly what happened here then I don't think this will affect the U.S.-Mexico relationship," he said.
Attacks on diplomatic personnel in Mexico were once considered rare, but this was the third shooting incident in two years.
In 2011, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent was killed and another wounded in a drug gang shooting in northern Mexico.
A drug-gang shooting In 2010 in the border city of Ciudad Juarez killed a U.S. consulate employee, her husband and another man.
While Mexico City has largely been spared the drug violence that hits other parts of the country, Cuernavaca has been the scene of drug gang turf battles involving remnants of the Beltran Leyva cartel.
Associated Press writers Mark Stevenson and Adriana Gomez Licon contributed to this report.
Also on HuffPost:
An army soldier stands next to a banner displaying mug shots of persons detained or killed by the Mexican Army during the media presentation of Daniel Ramirez, alias "El Loco", not pictured, in Mexico City, Monday, May 21, 2012. Ramirez is believed to be a member of the Zetas drug cartel allegedly involved in the dumping of more than 40 hacked-up bodies on a highway outside the city of Cadereyta near Monterrey. The bodies with their heads, hands and feet hacked off were found May 13. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)
An Army soldier stands next to Daniel Ramirez, alias "El Loco," during his presentation to the media in Mexico City, Monday, May 21, 2012. Ramirez is believed to be a member of the Zetas drug cartel allegedly involved in the dumping of more than 40 hacked-up bodies on a highway outside the city of Cadereyta near Monterrey. The bodies with their heads, hands and feet hacked off were found May 13. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)
Mexican marines escort Marcos Jesus Hernandez Rodriguez, aka 'El Chilango', alleged leader of assassins and member of the Los Zetas drug cartel, in Veracruz state, during his presentation for the press in Mexico City on May 11, 2012. (YURI CORTEZ/AFP/GettyImages)
In this photo taken Monday, May 7, 2012, Maria Jimenez, nicknamed "La Tosca," or "the rough one" is presented to the media in Monterrey, Mexico. On Monday, authorities in the northern border state of Nuevo Leon announced they had captured Jimenez, the female leader of a local cell of the Zetas drug cartel, who is suspected of ordering or participating in at least 20 murders in or around the northern city of Monterrey. (AP Photo)
Fourteen alleged members of 'Los Zetas' drug cartel and seized weapons are presented to the press in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, Mexico on February 15, 2012. More than 40,000 people have been killed in rising drug-related violence in Mexico since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon deployed soldiers and federal police to take on organized crime. (Julio Cesar Aguilar/AFP/Getty Images)
A banner shows ink drawings of missing people at the National March for Dignity on the day Mexicans celebrate el Dia de La Madre, or Mother's Day, in Mexico City, Thursday, May 10, 2012. Mothers and other relatives of persons gone missing in the fight against drug cartels and organized crime are demanding that authorities locate their loved ones. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)
In this Dec. 21, 2010 file photo, weapons seized during a police and military raid are displayed in Coban, province of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala. In Dec. 2010, the Guatemalan military declared a month long state of siege in Alta Verapaz in hopes of reclaiming cities that have been taken over by Mexico's Zetas drug gang. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd, File)
Relatives mourn next to the coffin containing the remains of Jose Yovanny Bocel at an Air Force base in Guatemala City , Wednesday, March 21, 2012. The remains of 11 Guatemalan citizens were repatriated from Mexico Wednesday, part of 193 bodies found in the northern Mexico Tamaulipas state in 26 mass graves in April 2011. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
Natalia Andres Lopez, left, and another relative, mourn over the coffin containing the body of her cousin, at an Air Force base in Guatemala City , Wednesday, March 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)