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US says Border Patrol agent killed in shooting

A U.S. Border vehicle drives along the U.S. and Mexico border fence in Naco, Arizona, in this September 7, 2011 file photo. (REUTERS/Joshua Lott)

BISBEE, Arizona: A U.S. Border Patrol agent was shot to death Tuesday near the Mexico border, the first fatal shooting of an agent since a deadly 2010 firefight with Mexican bandits led to congressional probes of a botched U.S. government gun-smuggling investigation.

The agent and a colleague were on patrol in the desert near Naco, Arizona, when shooting broke out shortly before 2 a.m., the Border Patrol said. The second agent was shot in the ankle and buttocks and was airlifted to a hospital.

Authorities have not identified the agents, and they did not say whether any weapons were seized at the scene.

The shooting occurred after an alarm was triggered on one of the thousands of sensors placed by the U.S. government along the border, and the agents went to investigate, said Cochise County Sheriff's spokeswoman Carol Capas.

It is not known whether the agents returned fire, Capas said.

The last Border Patrol agent fatally shot on duty was Brian Terry, who died in the 2010 shootout. The Border Patrol station in Naco, where the two agents shot Tuesday were stationed, was recently named after Terry.

Terry's shooting was later linked to the government's Fast and Furious gun-smuggling operation, which allowed people suspected of illegally buying guns for others to walk away from gun shops with weapons rather than be arrested.

Authorities intended to track the guns into Mexico. Two rifles found at the scene of Terry's shooting were bought by a member of the gun-smuggling ring under investigation.

Critics of the operation say any shooting along the border raises fears that illegal weapons are still being used in area violence.

"There's no way to know at this point how the agent was killed, but because of Operation Fast and Furious, we'll wonder for years if the guns used in any killing along the border were part of an ill-advised gun-walking strategy," Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley said in a written statement.

The Terry family said the shooting was a "graphic reminder of the inherent dangers that threaten the safety of those who live and work near the border."

Agents at a checkpoint near the scene declined to comment and barred reporters from going further.

The FBI, which also is investigating the shooting, declined to say whether investigators have recovered guns or bullet casings at the scene.

The wounded agent was in surgery and expected to recover, said George McCubbin, president of the National Border Patrol Council, a union representing about 17,000 border patrol agents. A third agent was not hurt, McCubbin said.

Twenty-six Border Patrol agents have died in the line of duty since 2002.

 

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