CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Confused hit men may have gone to the wrong party, the FBI said Tuesday as it cast doubt on fears that the slaying of three people with ties to the U.S. consulate shows that Mexican drug cartels have launched an offensive against U.S. government employees.
Gunmen chased two white SUVs from the birthday party of a consulate employee’s child on Saturday and opened fire as horrified relatives screamed. The two near-simultaneous attacks left three adults dead and at least two children wounded.
The attack drives home just how dangerous Ciudad Juarez has become — and just how vulnerable those who live and work there can be, despite the Mexican government’s claims that most victims are drug smugglers.
According to one line of investigation, the assailants — believed to be aligned with the Juarez drug cartel — may have been ordered to attack a white SUV leaving a party and mistakenly went to the “Barquito de Papel,” which puts on children’s parties and whose name means “Paper Boat.”
“We don’t have any information that these folks were directly targeted because of their employment by the U.S. government or their U.S. citizenship,” FBI spokeswoman Andrea Simmons told The Associated Press by phone from El Paso, just across the Rio Grande from Ciudad Juarez.
Experts as well cast doubt on the idea that drug cartels would be interested in turning their guns on U.S. government employees.
“A systematic, nationwide shift to the use of such tactics would work against drug traffickers’ interests,” said Allyson Benton, an analyst with the Eurasia Group.
The wife of one of the victims, a 13-year employee of the consulate named Hilda, described to a friend how she watched in horror as hit men pumped bullets into her SUV with her husband and children inside. She had been trailing her family in a second car when the attack occurred.
She leapt screaming from her car, begging the men to stop and telling them her children — ages 2, 4 and 7 — were inside, the friend said. But they continued until her husband, Jorge Alberto Salcido, was covered in blood, slumped dead.
All three children in the car were treated for injuries and released. His account differed from authorities who said two children were in the car.
The other attack killed Arthur H. Redelfs, 34, and his wife, Lesley A. Enriquez, 35, a consulate employee who was four months pregnant.