Mexico City has suspended its anti-kidnapping
chief over a rescue attempt fraught with catastrophic errors in
which police killed two of their own FBI-trained commanders and a
captor shot the kidnapped woman.
The case is the latest humiliation for Mexican police
confronting one of the world's highest kidnapping rates and a boom
in drug gang violence.
The anti-kidnapping chief, Juan Maya Aviles, has been suspended
pending an investigation into the bungled rescue attempt nearly two
months ago, Mexico City Attorney General Miguel Angel Mancera said
He said two other officers have been detained for questioning
over allegations they ignored a tip from the victim's driver that
she would be kidnapped. The driver is suspected of initially
participating in the plot to kidnap 50-year-old Yolanda Ceballos
only to later back out.
The police "were experienced but the operation ultimately
failed with tragic consequences," Mancera told Mexican broadcaster
Televisa. "Of course, the intention, as in all of these
operations, is to liberate the victim."
A rapid-response police team arrived at a house in the middle of
the night on July 3 hoping to free Ceballos.
The kidnappers opened fire with AK-47 assault rifles. When
police fired back, two commanders - including the chief of the
city's elite rapid response force - were shot from behind by their
Meanwhile, one of the kidnappers inside the home fatally shot
Ceballos before killing himself. Seven other kidnappers were
The fiasco called into question intense efforts to root out
corruption and better equip and train security forces that are
confronting ruthless drug cartels in a battle that has killed more
than 11,000 people since President Felipe Calderon took office in
A stream of families have come forward in recent years to
complain of police indifference - and even complicity - in the
abduction of their loved ones. Despite repeated government promises
to crack down, high-profile kidnappings have surged.
The possibility that officers ignored warnings from the driver
renewed suspicions of Mexican police involvement in kidnappings.
"If it is confirmed that the police knew she would be
kidnapped, it would be proof of what we have been saying: that
police are behind kidnappings here," said Isabel Miranda de
Wallace, who has been an outspoken anti-crime activist since the
2005 kidnapping of her 36-year-old son.
Wallace embarrassed police who neglected her son's case when she
found the kidnappers on her own. But her son remains missing.
Hundreds of police officers have been arrested or fired in
anti-corruption stings under Calderon.
Last year, police in the capital arrested a former city police
officer and an active federal agent in the kidnapping and killing
of the 14-year-old son of a sporting goods magnate, a case that
inspired huge marches against crime across the country.
The arrest of two more suspects in that case last month only
raised more questions about police effectiveness: Federal
investigators say one of the suspects confessed to killing the boy,
but did not know the men arrested the previous year by Mexico City
police. Authorities say they are trying to sort out contradicting
claims by investigators.
The Mexican government says there have been about 97 kidnappings
reported each month this year - a jump from about 70 a month last
year - but acknowledges that abductions go unreported because of
fear that police themselves may be involved.
The nonprofit Citizens' Institute for Crime Studies estimates
the real rate is closer to 500 a month, which would make Mexico a
world leader in kidnappings.
Mancera said the police who led the July 3 rescue attempt were
experienced but did not expect to run into a kidnapper who was
willing to kill himself rather than be caught. Mexican police,
including the two killed in the botched operation, often receive
training from the FBI and other foreign forces.
Police trying to rescue kidnap victims usually have little time
to plan their operations and often confront unknown factors, said
Joseph A. Pollini, a former New York Police Department cold-case
investigator now teaching at John Jay College of Criminal Justice
in New York.
"The bottom line is - not to criticize them; I'm sure they did
the best they can - but they have to train a lot better than they
do," said Pollini, who worked on more than 500 kidnapping cases
for the New York police and says he never lost a victim during a
"There's always a potential for a problem, but you don't put
other people in your area in a crossfire situation," he said.
"Every case is a different scenario, and something that can go
wrong will go wrong at the worst possible time. That's why training