By Pete Yost
WASHINGTON — The FBI is investigating the possibility that the fatal shooting of a U.S. border patrol agent and the wounding of another was a case of the agents exchanging fire among themselves, known as friendly fire, two U.S. law enforcement officials said Friday.
The probe is looking into whether the two agents exchanged gunfire Tuesday in the mistaken belief that each was being fired on by a hostile gunman. The shootings occurred five miles ( 8 kilometers) north of the Mexican border. .
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the matter is under investigation.
At FBI headquarters, spokesman Chris Allen declined to comment.
The shootings occurred in a rugged hilly area as Nicholas Ivie and two other agents responded to an alarm that was triggered on one of the sensors that the government has installed along the border. Ivie was fatally shot. The wounded agent was shot in the ankle and buttocks and released from the hospital after undergoing surgery. The third agent was not injured.
Ivie's death marked the first fatal shooting of an agent since a deadly firefight with Mexican bandits that killed U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010 and spawned congressional probes of a botched government gun-smuggling investigation called Operation Fast and Furious.
On Tuesday after the latest shooting, Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, said "there's no way to know at this point how the agent was killed, but because of Operation Fast and Furious, we will wonder for years if the guns used in any killing along the border were part of an ill-advised gun-walking strategy sanctioned by the federal government."
Early investigative work by Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, brought the gun-walking case known as Fast and Furious to light in early 2011.
Twenty-six Border Patrol agents have died in the line of duty since 2002.
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