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“A failed state”: Utah senator reacts to Mexico murders

File photo of Sen. Mike Lee. After the first day of the Senate impeachment trial, Lee said it came with theatrics and insults. (Photo: Hans Koepsell / KSL File Photo)

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, has some strong words for Mexico after an ambush-style attack that resulted in the murders of six children and three women, all with U.S. citizenship.

“This was nothing short of a – a savage act of cruelty,” Lee said in an interview with Dave & Dujanovic Wednesday morning. “What’s so stunning about this is that it involved, overwhelmingly, women in children. Women and children who were not doing anything to provoke anyone. Not doing anything to pose a threat to anyone else’s safety. And we can’t discern any legitimate grievance anyone could have had with them.”

“The circumstances just don’t add up. They don’t make sense,” the senator said.

Mexico murders: evidence of a failed state?

Lee struck a tone sharply critical of Mexico and its leadership in his remarks. He said the Mexican government has not done nearly enough to address drug violence in its country.

“Mexico is leaning dangerously toward becoming a failed state,” he continued. “We have not seen enough action toward addressing the threat that it presents, not only to the Mexican people but to the American people. When the drug cartels become as big and as powerful and as bold and as callous toward human life as these have become — I think this is a time for us to take this very seriously and to figure out the best steps forward.”

Mexico murders

Chihuahua state police officers man a checkpoint in Janos, Chihuahua state, northern Mexico, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. Drug cartel gunmen ambushed three SUVs along a dirt road, slaughtering six children and three women, all U.S. citizens living in northern Mexico, in a grisly attack that left one vehicle a burned-out, bullet-riddled hulk, authorities said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Christian Chavez)

On Tuesday, authorities confirmed drug cartel gunmen ambushed three SUVs on a dirt road in northern Mexico. When the shooting was over, nine people were dead — six of them children, all U.S. citizens living in the region.

Another eight children survived the attack. Some suffered gunshot wounds or other injuries.

Looking for a motive

According to the Associated Press, Mexican officials theorized the women and children were victims of mistaken identity, with cartel members assuming their SUVs belonged to a rival gang. Lee doubts that theory.

“I don’t buy that. I don’t buy the notion that it was a mistake,” Lee said. “This appears to have been very systematic and targeted and well-thought-out. That’s one of the things that makes it so disturbing and so perplexing, is that we just don’t know why they would’ve chosen them as targets, chosen to go after them in this dastardly manner.”

Mexico murders

Austin Cloes points to a photo of relatives Rhonita Miller and her family, who were killed in Mexico, on a computer screen Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, in Herriman, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Prosecutors announced overnight the arrest of a “suspect” near Agua Prieta but did not say whether the person took part in the attack on the Americans. According to authorities, that suspect held assault rifles, a .50-caliber sniper rifle, and two kidnapping victims. They did not reveal the identities of those victims.

Are drug cartels terror groups?

KSL asked Brian Besser, District Agent-in-Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Utah, whether the US should classify Mexican drug cartels as terrorist groups.

“I think we have to look no further than yesterday’s news story to actually get an answer for that. This is a – absolutely unconscionable. It’s egregious. The crimes are against helpless women and children. These are activities that are perpetrated by terrorist organizations,” Besser said.

The FBI currently treats drug cartels as transnational organized criminal organizations. According to the FBI, Mexico is the western hemisphere’s largest producer of heroin, meth and marijuana.

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