U.S. National Zia Zafar Pleads Guilty to the Attempted Murder of U.S. Consulate Official in Mexico

 

In January 2017, we covered the shooting of Christopher Ashcraft, a U.S. diplomat stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Mexico.

On July 13, 2018, DOJ announced that U.S. national and former medical student Zia Zafar pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence:

Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of the Eastern District of Virginia, Special Agent in Charge Robert F. Lasky of the FBI’s Miami Field Office and Director Christian J. Schurman of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS) made the announcement.

Zia Zafar, 33, of Chino Hills, California, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person and one count of discharging a firearm during a crime of violence.  Zafar entered his guilty plea before U.S District Judge Anthony J. Trenga of the Eastern District of Virginia.  Judge Trenga scheduled Zafar’s sentencing hearing for November, 7, 2018.

According to admissions made in connection with his plea, on Jan. 6, 2017, Zafar armed himself with a firearm, donned a wig and sunglasses to disguise his appearance, and waited in a parking garage for a Vice Consul, who worked at the U.S Consulate in Guadalajara.  Although Zafar initially was following the Vice Consul as he walked towards his vehicle, Zafar noticed a security guard nearby, and instead moved to the vehicle exit ramp, where he waited for the Vice Consul to exit.  As the Vice Consul approached the exit in his car, Zafar fired a single shot into the vehicle, striking the Vice Consul in his chest and leaving him in serious condition.  Zafar admitted that he targeted the Vice Consul because he knew from earlier surveillance that the victim worked at the U.S. Consulate.

“Zia Zafar surveilled and targeted a U.S. official serving in Mexico, lying in wait before shooting him in the chest in a heinous act of premeditated violence,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Cronan.  “Today’s guilty plea sends a clear message that the Department of Justice will aggressively prosecute those who seek to harm U.S. officials serving overseas.  The Department of Justice will continue work with our domestic and international partners to ensure that anyone who targets U.S. officials abroad will be brought to justice.”

“The Vice Consul was targeted and shot because he represented the United States,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “No one should doubt the resolve of law enforcement to steadfastly investigate and apprehend those who attack us. I wish to express our sincere thanks to the many United States and Mexican law enforcement agencies involved in the apprehension and return of this defendant to the United States to face justice.”

[…] FBI and DSS investigated the case in close cooperation with Mexican authorities and with valuable assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.  Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Walutes Jr. of the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case.

The Department of Justice gratefully acknowledges the government of Mexico, to include the Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Procuraduria General de la Republica, Fiscalia del Estado de Jalisco and Instituto Nacional de Migracion for their extraordinary efforts, support and professionalism in responding to this incident.

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Th court filings confirmed much of the details previously reported about this case, though the case remains perplexing.  On January 10, 2017, an Affidavit in Support of a Criminal Complaint was filed by David J. DiMarco, a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) assigned to the Extraterritorial Squad, Washington Field Office. Includes the following:

On January 6, 2017, Christopher Ashcraft, the victim, was employed with the U.S.Department of State as a Vice Consul in the Consular office in Guadalajara, Mexico. As Vice Consul, Ashcraft is recognized by the Government of Mexico as a diplomat. As such, Ashcraftwas granted diplomatic immunity in the course of his official duties.

On or about January 6, 2017, Christopher Ashcraft visited a gym adjacent to a shopping center located at Agenda Vallarta #3300 in Guadalajara, Mexico. At approximately 6:19 p.m., an individual later identified as the Defendant, ZIA ZAFAR, shot Ashcraft with a pistol as Ashcraft was leaving the gym parking lot in his personal vehicle. The round struck Ashcraft in the chest. Ashcraft was taken to a local hospital for medical treatment, where he currently remains.

Special Agents with the FBI interviewed Ashcraft at the hospital. During the interview, Ashcraft stated that when he exited the gym, he noticed the individual later identified as ZAFAR, who was wearing blue scrubs, white shoes, and what appeared to be a wig. Based upon ZAFAR’s behavior, Ashcraft felt as though ZAFAR was waiting for him. Ashcraft walked to apayment terminal to pay for his parking. When Ashcraft turned to walk towards his vehicle, hesaw that ZAFAR was following him. Ashcraft felt threatened and walked to a populated area of the parking garage. Once ZAFAR was no longer following him, Ashcraft got into his vehicle and drove towards the garage exit. Ashcraft was shot once in the chest while exiting the garage.

Surveillance video from the shopping center and parking garage was obtained by Mexican law enforcement. The video shows a male (later identified as ZAFAR) wearing what appears to be a wig, sunglasses, blue scrubs, and white shoes. ZAFAR appears to be following Ashcraft as Ashcraft exits the gym and pays for his parking at approximately 6:16 p.m. The videothen shows ZAFAR followmg Ashcraft for approximately three seconds. As Ashcraft walks to adifferentarea ofthe garage,the video shows ZAFAR walking up an incoming vehicle ramp at 6:17 p.m. Approximately one minute later, ZAFAR is seen at the top of the exit vehicle ramp, pacing back and forth with his right hand in his pocket. At approximately 6:19 p.m., Ashcraft’s vehicle pulls up to the garage exit. The video shows ZAFAR taking aim with a pistol and firing into the windshield. The video then shows ZAFAR fleeing the scene.

The criminal complaint filed on January 9, 2017 was originally filed under seal and the offense description is listed as “Attempted Murder of an Internationally Protected Person”.

The AFFIDAVIT by USA as to Zia Zafar was also sealed. The criminal case cover sheet is redacted but includes Zia Zafar’s name, Juvenile FBI file number #316130AC9, and year of birth as 1985. The subject’s race, place of birth, language/dialects are left blank (or redacted, hard to tell).

In April 28, 2017, the Defense filed a motion to Seal Defendant’s Motion Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 4241(d) by Zia Zafar. The filing says that “Sealing of this document is necessary in order to safeguard the privacy and safety of the defendant.”

A Memorandum in Support by Zia Zafar re 28 MOTION to Seal Defendant’s Motion Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. 4241(d) also includes the following:

B. Sealing is necessary in order to safeguard the safety and privacy of the defendant. Counsel for the defendant has considered procedures other than sealing and none will suffice to protect this information from disclosure and to prevent public dissemination of information concerning Mr. Webster’s mental health.

Mr. Webster?

On May 5, 2017, there was a Status Conference to determine the competency of the defendant.

On August 11, 2017 there was an Arraignment/Competency Hearing.

On January 12, 2018 the Court granted the Motion for Psychiatric Exam and ordered that the defendant undergo a psychiatric examination at the Alexandria Detention Center.

On July 13, 2018, DOJ announced that U.S. national and former medical student Zia Zafar pleaded guilty to shooting the U.S. diplomat in Mexico.

The Statement of Facts filed on July 13, 2018 as part of Zafar’s plea agreement is only three page long and notes that Zafar and the diplomat that he attacked did not know each other. According to the Statement, the diplomat was targeted because “the defendant knew from earlier surveillance that he worked at the United States Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico.” News citing Mexican officials previously reported that Zafar targeted Ashcraft over a visa denial.

The Affidavit submitted in support of the warrant says Zafar entered Mexico on a student visa, had a California driver’s license and drove a Honda Civic with California license plate. It doesn’t say when he entered Mexico or how long was he residing in the country prior to the attack.

The Affidavit did cite the use of a Starbucks receipt and Mexican immigration database to identify Zafar, and help in his apprehension by Mexican authorities.  It also says that “Mexican law enforcement searched the residence and recovered a pistol and several forms of identification bearing the name ZIA ZAFAR. A pair of sunglasses and a wig similar to the ones seen in the surveillance video were also recovered from the residence.”

The court filings do not indicate what made Consulate Guadalajara or this official the specific target in this incident; there is no mention in the unsealed court records of a visa denial as a motive in this attack.

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Nicaragua Crisis Escalates as Ortega Regime Continues Targeting of Anti-Govt Protesters

 

The State Department updated its Travel Advisory for Nicaragua on July 6, 2018 to Level 3 urging that U.S. travelers reconsider travel to Nicaragua due to crime, civil unrest, and limited healthcare availability.  The update also includes the announcement that the U.S. government has ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel in the country and that while the U.S. Embassy remains open, it can only provide emergency services for U.S. citizens.

According to the Miami Herald, the Organization of American States’ Inter-American Human Rights Commission puts the number of dead since April 18 at 264, while Nicaragua’s Pro-Human Rights Association puts the figure at 309 people and thousands of wounded.

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Venezuela Expels US Embassy Caracas CDA Todd Robinson, DCM Brian Naranjo #48Hours

Posted: 11:23 am PT

 

S/P Staffer Kimberly Breier to be Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs

Posted: 3:37 am  ET

 

On March 5, The WH announced the nomination of S/P staffer Kimberly Breier to be the next Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Kimberly Breier of Virginia, to be an Assistant Secretary of State (Western Hemisphere Affairs), vice Mari Carmen Aponte and to be a Member of the Board of Directors of the Inter-American Foundation (Government Rep), vice Roberta Jacobson. Ms. Breier has served as a member of the Secretary’s policy planning staff at the Department of State since 2017.  She previously served as the Director of the U.S.-Mexico Futures Initiative, Deputy Director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and as Vice President of Peschard Sverdrup International.  Formerly, she served as an analyst and manager in the United States intelligence community for more than a decade and as director for North America and as director for Brazil and the Southern Cone on the National Security Council staff at the White House.  Prior to government service, Ms. Breier served as a senior fellow and director of the National Policy Association’s North American Committee.

She earned a B.A. in Spanish from Middlebury College and a M.A. in Latin American studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service.  She has traveled extensively in the Western Hemisphere and speaks Spanish.

According to history.state.gov, the Department of State had first established a Division of Latin American Affairs in 1909. The Department created the position of Assistant Secretary of State for American Republic Affairs during the general reorganization of Dec 20, 1944, after Congress had authorized an increase in the number of Assistant Secretaries of State from four to six (Dec 8, 1944; P.L. 78-472; 58 Stat. 798). This reorganization was the first to assign substantive designations to specific Assistant Secretary positions. The position was temporarily discontinued between Jun 1947 and Jun 1949, when American Republic Affairs were handled by an Assistant Secretary for Political Affairs. The Department re-established the position in June 1949 after the Commission on Organization of the Executive Branch of Government (Hoover Commission) recommended that certain offices be upgraded to bureau level. On Oct 3, 1949, the Department by administrative action changed the incumbent’s designation to Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs.

On January 12, 1999, the Bureau assumed responsibility for Canada and was renamed the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.  If confirmed, Ms Breier would succeed career civil servant Roberta S. Jacobson who served from 2012 until 2016 when she was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. Other recent appointees to this position include Otto Juan Reich (2002); Roger Francisco Noriega (2003–2005); Thomas Alfred Shannon Jr. (2005–2009); and Arturo Valenzuela (2009–2011).

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Former Ambassador John Feeley’s Parting Shot: Why I could no longer serve this president

Posted: 4:25 am ET

 

Via WaPo:

I never meant for my decision to resign to be a public political statement. Sadly, it became one.

The details of how that happened are less important than the demoralizing take-away: When career public servants take an oath to communicate dissent only in protected channels, Trump administration officials do not protect that promise of privacy.

Leaking is not new in Washington. But leaking a sitting ambassador’s personal resignation letter to the president, as mine was, is something else. This was a painful indication that the current administration has little respect for those who have served the nation apolitically for decades. […] A part of my resignation letter that has not been quoted publicly reads: “I now return home, with no rank or title other than citizen, to continue my American journey.” What this means for me is still evolving.

As the grandson of migrant stock from New York City, an Eagle Scout, a Marine Corps veteran and someone who has spent his diplomatic career in Latin America, I am convinced that the president’s policies regarding migration are not only foolish and delusional but also anti-American.

Read in full below:

Here are a couple of goodbye videos from Panama:

 

Related posts:

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U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson to Retire After 31 Years of Service

Posted: 3:53 am ET

 

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Career Diplomat Lee McClenny Sworn-In as New U.S.Ambassador to Paraguay

Posted: 3:05 am ET

 

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US Embassy Cuba: New Mechanism For Brain Injury From an “Exposure of Unknown Origin”

Posted: 12:39 am ET

 

The University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair was selected to coordinate the evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation of 21 government personnel (11 women and 10 men) identified by the State Department and evaluated an average of 203 days following exposure to reported sound (described as “buzzing,” “grinding  metal,” “piercing squeals” or “humming”) and sensory phenomena (described as pressure-like or vibrating and likened to air “baffling” inside a moving car with the windows partially rolled down) at the US Embassy in Havana, Cuba in late 2016.

“It’s like a concussion without a concussion.”

“Of the 21 individuals assessed at Penn, 17 reported cognitive or behavioral problems such as difficulty remembering, concentrating, or both. “It’s not that any patient can’t do a given task, but it requires way more effort,” said coauthor Randel Swanson, DO, PhD, a brain injury rehabilitation specialist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Brain Injury and Repair. “They don’t have as much cognitive reserve.”

The author and his coauthors signed a nondisclosure agreement with the State Department, “so they cannot discuss whether they know more about what happened in Havana than has already been made public.”

The study concludes that “The unique circumstances of these patients and the clinical manifestations detailed in this report raise concern about a new mechanism for possible acquired brain injury from an exposure of unknown origin.”

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U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley Resigns From the Foreign Service Over Trump Policies

Posted: 4:59 am ET

 

The Foreign Service Act and appropriate personnel regulations require three (3) commitments from candidates for appointment to the Foreign Service: availability for worldwide assignment, willingness to accept out-of-function assignments, and observance of Foreign Service discipline with respect to public support of established United States policy – is a condition of employment with the Foreign Service.  That third commitment refers to this:

In the official performance of their duties as representatives of the United States Government, Foreign Service members may be called upon to support and defend policies with which they may not be personally in full agreement. On such occasions, normal standards of Foreign Service discipline will apply. Ample opportunity is provided within official channels for discussion and dissent with respect to the development and conduct of United States Foreign policy.

On January 12, the U.S. Ambassador to Panama John Feeley, a 28-year veteran of the Foreign Service did the honorable thing and tendered his resignation over Administration policies he is no longer able to support and defend. The Panama assignment is Ambassador Feeley’s first as chief of mission. He was on the second year of a three-year assignment.

Below is a brief summary of his long career in the diplomatic service:

John Feeley was sworn in as the U.S. Ambassador to Panama on January 15, 2016, and assumed his post in early February. He is a career diplomat who has focused much of his work on Latin American and Caribbean issues, both in Washington and in the region.

Ambassador Feeley most recently served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs from 2012 to 2015, responsible for the daily management of regional policy implementation and the supervision of 50 diplomatic posts across the Americas.

Previously he was the State Department’s Summit of the Americas Coordinator, overseeing the substantive preparation for Secretary Clinton’s engagement in the 2012 Cartagena Summit, a role he reprised for Secretary Kerry during the 2015 Summit in Panama.

From 2009 to 2012, Ambassador Feeley served as deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, where he managed a 37-agency country team that implemented the Merida Initiative. He has also been the Department’s Director for Central American Affairs and Deputy Director for Caribbean Affairs. From 2004 to 2006, Mr. Feeley served as a Deputy Executive Secretary in the Office of the Secretary of State, where he was responsible for managing information flow to Secretaries Powell and Rice, as well as coordinating their overseas travel.

A 2004 Distinguished Graduate of the National War College, Mr. Feeley’s overseas assignments include two tours in Mexico City, Santo Domingo, and Bogota.

Prior to joining the State Department in 1990, Mr. Feeley served on active military duty as a helicopter pilot in the United States Marine Corps. He is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and is married to retired career diplomat, Cherie Feeley. The Ambassador and his wife speak Spanish. The couple has two adult sons and one grandson.

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Coming Soon – Accountability Review Board Havana For Mysterious Attacks in Cuba

Posted: 3:34 am ET

 

The State Department’s new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein  did a press gaggle on January 9 and was asked about the convening of an Accountability Review Board for the attacks against American diplomats in Havana. He said that he expects announcements of the chair and the members of the board available for release within the next week. He also told the press “We believe that the Cuban Government knows what occurred, and so what we’d like them to do is to tell us what occurred so we can ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

He told members of the media that the USG “is not considering restoring the staff” at US Embassy Havana, and that the State Department is “providing extensive medical care to people that need it,” and that the agency “have also made it clear that if people do not want to serve in that particular embassy, they do not have to.”

When asked about Senator Marco Rubio’s comments that it’s against the law that it took –rather than 60 or 120 days– almost a year to stand up ARB Havana, U/S Goldstein responded:

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Right. Well, I – we have great respect for the senator, and he shares our concern about trying to reach resolution on this matter. It took time to set up the accountability review board because we were hopeful that we would be able to know what occurred. We were – the investigation has taken longer than we anticipated, and – but it is now time to go forward. And again, we would expect the – I would expect the names to be announced over the next several days. I do have the names, I just can’t – I’m not – I want to make sure that the people have been notified.

QUESTION: — by failing to announce or create this review board back in July, that the – that you had confirmed that people were seriously wounded by March or May, that the law requires if you know that a State Department personnel is seriously wounded, that you create a review board within 60 days or tell Congress why you’re not doing so. That is the clear letter of the law. You did not follow it. That’s what he claims. What is your response to that?

UNDER SECRETARY GOLDSTEIN: Right. We don’t agree with that. The assistant secretary today made clear, and we have said too, that it took us time to get the investigation in place. The investigation is continuing, and we believe that we have the – had the authority to determine when the accountability review board should be set in place. I think let’s not lose focus here. There’s 24 people that had injuries, and those people are receiving treatment, and we’ve had over 20 conversations with the people of Cuba. We’ve – the government investigators have been down four times; they’re going down again within the next few weeks. And so our primary goal at the present time is to find out why this occurred, to prevent it from happening again in Cuba and the embassy of Cuba or in any other place where American citizens are located.

When an ARB should be convened is in the rules book once it was determined that the incident was security-related with serious injury.  For folks who want a refresher, per 12 FAM 030, the Accountability Review Board process is a mechanism to foster more effective security of U.S. missions and personnel abroad by ensuring a thorough and independent review of security-related incidents.

Security-related incidents are defined as “A case of serious injury, loss of life, or significant destruction of property at or related to a U.S. government mission abroad, or a case of a serious breach of security involving intelligence activities of a foreign government directed at a U.S. mission abroad (other than a facility or installation subject to the control of a U.S. area combatant commander), and which does not clearly involve only causes unrelated to security.”

(See U.S. Diplomats in Cuba Sonic Attacks: As Serious as Mild TBI/Central Nervous System Damage?)

12 FAM 032.1 updated in October 2017 notes that the ARB/Permanent Coordinating Committee will, “as quickly as possible after an incident occurs, review the available facts and recommend to the Secretary to convene or not convene a Board.  (Due to the 1999 revision of the law requiring the Secretary to convene a Board not later than 60 days after the occurrence of an incident, except that such period may be extended for one additional 60-day period, the ARB/PCC will meet within 30 days of the incident if enough information is available.) In addition, the ARB/PCC will meet yearly to review the ARB process, existing policies and procedures, and all past ARB recommendations, and ensure that any necessary changes are effected.”

So we gotta ask an uncomfortable question for the Tillerson State Department — is it possible that no ARB Havana was convened because the eight positions who are members of the PCC, an entity tasked with making recommendations to the Secretary was not filled or only partially filled?

Did the ARB/PCC meet on the Havana incidents last year? What recommendations were made to the Secretary? Why are they convening an ARB just now?

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