03/01/2007

Border Patrol agents fatally shoot suspected smuggler near US-Mexico border

The Associated Press

TUCSON, Arizona — U.S. Border Patrol agents shot and killed a man among a group of suspected drug smugglers during a confrontation Tuesday night south of Tucson, authorities said.

Border Patrol spokesman Gus Soto said several agents spotted a group of five men walking with backpacks in the desert about 20 miles (30 kilometers) north of Mexico.

The incident was the second fatal shooting by a Border Patrol agent in the Tucson sector since the start of this year, and the seventh incident involving shots fired at or by agents during the current fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, Soto said.

Last month, a Mexican who was crossing the Arizona desert was shot by a federal agent just north of the U.S.-Mexico border in an area between Bisbee and Douglas. That shooting is now under investigation.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada said the agents on Tuesday ordered the group to halt. At least one of the backpackers opened fire, with one or more agents shooting back, Estrada said.

"Shots were fired," and one man was fatally injured at the site, Soto said.

Soto and Estrada said the other four smuggling suspects dropped their packs and ran off but were agents caught and arrested them.

All were held for questioning, Soto said.

Estrada said deputies found five bundles of marijuana and two pistols, one of them with the dead man.

Soto said he did not know whether the agent was fired on before shooting the man who died. The sequence of events, including how many shots were fired, by whom and when, will be part of the investigation by sheriff's office and the Border Patrol as well, Soto said.

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