MEXICO CITY — A Mexican federal police commander has been arrested and charged with providing false information in the case of 14 officers accused of ambushing a U.S. Embassy vehicle in August, authorities said Tuesday.
Initial reports on the shooting, which wounded two CIA agents, had said federal police mistook the embassy SUV for a criminal vehicle, but officials later said it appeared to be an intentional attack and raised the possibility it was staged at the behest of a drug cartel.
Inspector General Juan Manuel Pacheco Salgado was jailed Monday, accused of lying to authorities about what happened in the Aug. 24 attack on a rural road south of Mexico City, two government officials familiar with the case said Tuesday. They agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the case.
Fourteen officers, who were formally charged with attempted murder last week, were in plain clothes and civilian vehicles when they chased and fired at the gray Toyota SUV with diplomatic plates, then peppered the windows of the armored vehicle with 152 bullets when it came to a stop.
Two CIA officers, whose identities have not been released by the U.S. government, had non-life-threatening injuries, and a third person in the car, a Mexican navy captain, was not hurt. A prosecutors' statement last week said the fact that the U.S. vehicle was armored helped the occupants survive.
Pacheco was not involved in the attack, but he told the officers involved to shower and change into their uniforms before they made statements later that day to federal prosecutors investigating the case, the two officials said Tuesday.
The CIA officers were heading down a dirt road to a military installation with the Mexican navy captain when a carload of gunmen opened fire and gave chase. The federal police officers chased the SUV and more vehicles joined in as they continuously shot the diplomatic vehicle.
Federal police at first said that the officers were in patrol cars and that the embassy vehicle was fired on in a case of mistaken identity because the officers were investigating the kidnapping of a Mexican official in the area.
A Mexican federal police spokesman said in September that the officers may not have noticed the diplomatic plates. The official said police focused on the unusual sight of a bulletproof SUV traveling at high speed on a rural road, not on the car's distinctive diplomatic plates.
But U.S. and Mexican officials later told The Associated Press that evidence was pointing toward an intentional attack, perhaps ordered by a drug cartel.
A senior U.S. official said last month that there was strong circumstantial evidence that the officers were working for organized crime in a targeted assassination attempt. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
The rural road where the attack took place near Cuernavaca is known territory of the remnants of the Beltran Leyva gang. The once-powerful cartel has been run by Hector Beltran Leyva since Mexican marines killed his brother, drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva, in Cuernavaca in late 2009.
The officers so far do not face organized crime charges. But the Mexican attorney general's office has said the investigation is continuing, and it is still exploring whether the officers had links with organized crime.
The Mexican attorney general's office has not clarified whether the officers were working or off duty when the attack occurred. Federal police say their officers sometimes work in plain clothes on investigations. But one of the officials who spoke Tuesday said officers based at the station in the area where the attack occurred are only assigned to patrol the highway and do not conduct investigations.