by Greg Bloom
Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur
Less than two weeks after the FBI was asked to help in the investigation of the Ciudad Juárez serial killings, the Bureau is now involved in a front-page incident there after two FBI agents were severely beaten on the night of September 12 during a binational attempt to apprehend train robbers in the Sunland Park, New Mexico-Anapra, Cd. Juárez border area. At issue for over a week in the Cd. Juárez press is how Mexican citizens were arrested by the FBI and if the FBI had authorization to enter Mexico in the days following the event.
According to an article in the El Paso Times, the Border Patrol said that, since January 2002, there have been 122 train robberies and 87 burglaries in Sunland Park, near El Paso, Texas. The FBI believes that the thieves come from the border’s Anapra neighborhood of Cd. Juárez. The crimes occur where trains slow down as they go around a bend at the base of a mountain in Sunland Park. As the trains slow, thieves allegedly from Mexico jump onto the cars, break into them and throw goods from the trains. In some cases, cars have been unhitched so that they may be emptied more completely and easily. Annual losses to the Union Pacific Railroad are approximately US$1 million.
Train robberies in the area have been a problem in the past. In 2000, according to the El Paso Times, US officials arrested 16 Pinkerton security agents and a US postal worker in connection to approximately US$1.6 million in thefts from Union Pacific Railroad trains. Other suspects in the case were two men that later became Border Patrol officers, an El Paso Fire Department trainee, a Sunland Park police officer and an INS contract detention officer that fled to Mexico.
Hardrick Crawford Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI’s El Paso office, told the El Paso Times that US law enforcement had information that a train would be robbed on the night of Thursday, September 12, 2002. A sting was devised that included the FBI, Border Patrol, US Customs, Union Pacific Railroad police and Mexican Customs. The El Paso Times reported that about 40 US law enforcement agents were directly involved in the operation. Some of the agents were on the ground while others were aboard the train.
According to Crawford, as the events unfolded, there were three agents inside one train car and one of them noticed a suspect on the roof. The agent pulled the trespasser off the roof and, while subduing him, saw two other FBI agents staggering back to the US on the ground. These agents were being chased by a group of people. The agent on the train fired a shot that hit no one but which succeeded in scaring away the agents’ pursuers, said Crawford.
The two severely injured FBI agents were Sergio Barrio, 39, and Samantha Mikeska, 38. The agents suffered blunt trauma to the head after being kicked and hit with rocks and pipes, according to the FBI. Both agents suffered from pressure on the brain and were put in induced comas at the hospital. Mikeska has since gone home but may need follow-up surgery, according to the September 18 El Paso Times. Barrio is still in the hospital and will require rehabilitation therapy, the Times reported.
Al Cruz, an FBI special agent and spokesperson, said that US officials arrested 16 people after the attack, according to the El Paso Times. The 16 were being held in the Sunland Park city jail and were later transferred to another southern New Mexico facility. Minors in the group are reportedly being sent to a Deming, New Mexico juvenile facility. Deming is about 90 miles from Ciudad Juárez.
Ciudad Juárez Reacts
In a process that El Diario referred to as “summary extradition,” Anapra residents told El Diario that Mexican authorities did a house-by-house search for suspects in Mexico on Thursday night and then handed people over to US officials. Among them was a woman identified as a homemaker, Concepción García, age 50. García and others were then passed to US officials through the fence that divides Sunland Park and Anapra, according to El Diario.
García’s daughter, Mayra Robles García, age 21, told El Diario that Mexican law enforcement officers began entering homes searching for people that had been involved with the train incident. “However, they grabbed people that were totally innocent and turned them over to US police that were dressed in greenit seemed like they had already made an agreement about the search and arrests.”
Mayra’s sister, Leticia, age 27, said that the family will now begin looking for an explanation as to why their mother and other innocents were taken away that night. However, this will be difficult as Leticia mentioned that she does not have the passport necessary to visit her mother who is being held in the neighboring state.
Jorge Pasaret Robles, the head of Mexican Customs for Cd. Juárez, confirmed to El Diario that the arrests were coordinated between Mexican Customs and El Paso federal authorities.
According to an article in Cd. Juárez’s El Norte newspaper, Al Cruz, the FBI spokesperson essentially admitted that eleven people were detained by Mexican officials, passed through the border fence and arrested by the FBI. Cruz told El Norte, “The manner in which the arrests took place is that, at first, five people were arrested, on the US side, by FBI, Border Patrol, Union Pacific, or Customs agents, when these suspects bordered the train cars and tried to open them by force. Our agents were already waiting for them aboard the cars and that’s when they were arrested.”
El Norte reported that Cruz continued by saying, “Later, the other eleven attackersthose that had fled when they saw the arrestswere detained on the Mexican side by, it is our understanding, agents from Mexican Customs.”
El Norte said that Cruz added that “in no moment and in no way” did the FBI cross into Mexico. This led the newspaper to deduce that the 11 people arrested on the Mexican side of the border were passed to the FBI through the border fence. However, El Norte said that Cruz would not specifically talk about how the eleven suspects got from Mexico to the US.
On September 17, El Diario reported that the Mexican Consul in El Paso, Juan Carlos Cué Vega, stated that the arrest and transfer of Mexicans to the US was illegal. “This was done outside of the existing mechanisms of cooperation for handling such operations. In this case, no one advised us,” said Cué.
Cué emphasized that the event violated international laws in “their purest essence.” Laws of each country were also violated, he said.
Other reports from Anapra residents said that US police or soldiers were seen in their neighborhood. However, all Mexican and US officials interviewed by media sources have said that no one from US law enforcement entered Mexico on the night of Thursday, September 12 (other than Barrio and Mikeska who were allegedly dragged into Mexico by Mexican suspects).
Some Anapra residents also told reporters that they saw other Anapra residents being beaten by Mexican law enforcement before they were handed over to US officials.
An invasion of national territory?
The morning after the sting operation, the FBI again returned to Anapra. Front-page photos in El Diario show what appear to be unarmed men and women wearing clothes marked FBI Evidence Recovery Team. Also visible in the photos, standing in US territory, are two or three people in military fatigues holding assault rifles that poke through the fence into Mexico.
In an El Paso Times, September 18 article, the newspaper reported that FBI spokesperson Cruz confirmed that unarmed FBI agents went to collect evidence at the site of the attack on Friday, September 13 while Mexican police watched. The mentioning of the fact that the agents were unarmed is significant as Mexico is very sensitive to the issue of foreign law enforcement agents carrying weapons in Mexico.
Crawford, the head of the FBI’s El Paso office, was quoted in the September 15 El Diario as saying that Mexican Customs had given authorization to the FBI to enter Mexican territory on the morning of September 13.
However, on September 17, Pasaret Robles of Mexican Customs told El Diario that he did not give the FBI permission to enter Mexican territory.
Regarding the FBI’s visit to Anapra, Consul Cué said that it too violated international laws and binational cooperation accords between the US and Mexico.
In federal court in Las Cruces, New Mexicoabout an hour from Ciudad Juárezcharges are being made against the suspects. Consul Cué has promised in the press to defend them and to continue looking into the issues of “summary extradition” and the FBI’s Friday presence in Anapra.
The FBI did not return Frontera NorteSur’s phone call on September 18.
Frontera NorteSur is an On-line news coverage of the US-Mexico border. To see the site go to: http://frontera.nmsu.edu