CCTV and Starbucks Receipt Help Identify Zia Zafar in Attempted Murder of U.S. Diplomat in Mexico

Posted: 2:44 am ET
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Via USDOJ | january 10, 2016 | Zafar Photos

Zia Zafar, 31, of Chino Hills, California, made his initial appearance here today after being charged with the attempted murder of a diplomat stationed at the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico.

According to the criminal complaint, on January 6, Zafar disguised himself and followed a Vice Consul of the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara through a parking garage to his vehicle. After the Vice Consul got into his car and drove towards the garage exit, Zafar allegedly shot him once in the chest and fled. The Vice Consul was taken to a local hospital, where he currently remains. Zafar was subsequently detained by Mexican authorities.

Zafar was deported from Mexico yesterday afternoon and arrived in the United States last night. He was immediately arrested and charged with attempted murder of an internationally protected person. Zafar faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison if convicted. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

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.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Leslie R. Caldwell, Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Field Office; and Bill A. Miller, Director of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), made the announcement after Zafar’s initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge John F. Anderson. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney William M. Sloan, and Trial Attorney Jamie Perry of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section.

The FBI and DSS are investigating the case in close cooperation with Mexican authorities and with assistance from the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, DEA and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

The Justice Department notes that the charges in the criminal complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Screen Shot

Zafar was charged with the attempted murder of Christopher Ashcraft, an “internationally protected person outside the United States, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1116(a)”.  Court records  indicate that Zafar is represented by Whitney E.C. Minter of the Office of the Federal Public Defender (Alexandria, VA).

Below is an excerpt from the affidavit executed by David J. DiMarco, Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in support of criminal complaint application and arrest warrant in this case:

Probable Cause and Details of the Investigation

8. On or about January 6, 2017, Christopher Ashcraft visited a gym adjacent to a shopping center located at Avenida 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.

9. 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 a payment terminal to pay for his parking. When Ashcraft turned to walk towards his vehicle, he saw 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.

10. 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 Ashcrafl exits the gym and pays for his parking at approximately 6:16 p.m. The video then shows ZAFAR following Ashcraft for approximately three seconds. As Ashcraft walks to a different area of the 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.

Identification of ZIA ZAFAR

1 1. On or about January 7, 2017, Mexican law enforcement obtained surveillance video from a nearby Starbucks located at Avenida Vallarta #3300, Guadalajara, Mexico. The Starbucks video, dated January 6, 2017, shows an individual matching the description of the above-referenced shooter. Mexican law enforcement obtained a Starbucks receipt dated January 6, 2017, 5:19 p.m. for a purchase totaling 58 Mexican Pesos, paid, by credit card, and signed by the purchaser bearing the name Zafar/Zia.

12. A search of a Mexican Immigration database revealed that ZAFAR, who entered Mexico on a student visa, was born on REDACTED 1985, and holds a U.S. Passport bearing the number REDACTED. A search of Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) records from California revealed that ZIA ZAFAR, born on REDACTED 1985, holds a California driver’s license bearing the number REDACTED. The records obtained from the Califomia DMV include a signature which bears remarkable similarity to the signature on the aforementioned Starbucks receipt.

13. Mexican Immigration records revealed that ZAFAR reported his local residence in Mexico as in Guadalajara, Mexico. Mexican law enforcement conducted surveillance at the residence on January 7, 2017, at approximately 8:14 p.m. and noted the presence of a Honda Civic with California license plate number 4RZH452. A subsequent check of California DMV records revealed the car was registered to ZAFAR.

14. Mexican law enforcement subsequently detained ZAFAR inside the above-listed residence.

15. 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 fiom the residence.

The court has ordered Zafar’s detention pending trial. In addition to safety of the community, other reasons cited for the detention includes “lack of significant community or family ties to this district”, “significant family or other ties outside the United States”, “history of violence or use weapon”, and “background information unknown or unverified.”

 

#

 

Advertisements

Mexico Arrests Suspect, Reportedly a US Citizen, in Shooting of US Diplomat in Guadalajara

Posted: 3:34 pm PT
Updated: 4:30 pm PT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

Mexico’s Fiscalía General del Estado de Jalisco announced today that the suspect on Friday’s attack of a U.S. consular official from USCG Guadalajara had been arrested (see American Diplomat Wounded in Targeted Attack in #Guadalajara, Mexico). According to the state attorney general on Twitter, the suspect was handed over to Mexico’s federal attorney general’s office .

Secretary Kerry released the following statement on January 8:

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I want to thank the Government of Mexico for their swift and decisive arrest of a suspect in the heinous attack against our Foreign Service Officer colleague in Guadalajara, Mexico. The safety and security of U.S. citizens and our diplomatic staff overseas are among our highest priorities. My thoughts and prayers remain with this officer and his family during this difficult time. I wish him a speedy recovery.

The Guardian’s latest reporting on this incident cites a source within the Guadalajara police force who spoke on condition of anonymity, and identified the suspect as Zafar Zia, a 31-year-old American citizen (AmCit) of Indian origin.

The source said Zia was captured in a joint operation by the FBI, DEA and Jalisco state officials in Guadalajara’s affluent Providencia neighbourhood early on Sunday morning. The suspect had a .380 caliber pistol tucked into his waistband when he was arrested. The authorities also seized a Honda Accord with California license plates, a wig and sunglasses that may match those seen in footage of the shooting, and 16 ziplock bags containing 336 grams of a substance believed to be marijuana.

US Mission Mexico has declined to provide further information to the media about the shooting and declined to identify the employee or his position at the consulate general; information that is already widely reported in U.S. and Mexican media.

A separate news report says that the suspect had moved to Guadalajara in November 2016 from Phoenix and had been residing in the city since. The report also says that “the apparent motive for the attempted murder appears to have been a disagreement over an undisclosed visa process.” A local report confirms that the suspect has been residing in a farm in Colonia Prados Providencia for about two months. All the rooms on site were reportedly rented by students.

Consular officials have been screamed at, and spit on by rejected visa applicants, and there are obviously some very unhappy visa applicants but if this is true, this would be the first time since 2010 where an armed attack is tied to a visa office (see Three from US Consulate General Ciudad Juárez Dies in Drive-By Shooting). There was a time when all that separate a visa officer from a visa applicant is an open counter.  Easy to grab and physically attack a visa official or employee. We kind of recall that the hard line interview windows started going up in the early 80’s. Our go-to pal for this stuff told us that there were certainly incidents of client aggression and assaults in both visa and citizen services sections but believed that the interview window upgrade was just part of the larger hardline standard (i.e., putting forced-entry and ballistic protection between public areas and the general work area).

The U.S. Government has spent millions upgrading embassy security and beefing up security protection inside consular offices but this attack shows how vulnerable our people are overseas even when they are just going about the ordinary routines of daily life (going to a gym, using an ATM machine, driving a car, etc).  The latest GAO report on diplomatic security points out that the worst attacks against our diplomatic personnel actually occurs while they are in transit (see GAO Reviews @StateDept’s Efforts to Protect U.S. Diplomatic Personnel in Transit).

In any case, if true that the suspect is a U.S. citizen, a couple of thoughts: one, he would not have a need for a U.S. visa, unless it is for a fiancee/spouse or other family members of foreign origin.  We probably will hear more about this in the coming days. Two, as a U.S. citizen arrested in a foreign country, a U.S. consular officer assigned at the American Citizen Services branch in USCG Guadalajara would have to visit the suspect in jail; as U.S. consular officers do worldwide to ensure the fair and humane treatment for U.S. citizens imprisoned overseas.

We should note that the U.S. and Mexico has an extradition treaty that allows for the transfer of suspected or convicted criminals from one to country to the other. So this case might yet end up in a U.S. court. Latest update from AFP says that the suspect will be deproted deported back to the United States to face further legal action.

 

Meanwhile, USMission Mexico has released a Security Message urging precautions following the shooting in Guadalajara.

Related posts:

Employees of U.S. Consulate General Monterrey (a non-danger post) face credible security threat in Mexico Apr 2016
USCG Monterrey: USG Personnel Banned From Driving Between Post-U.S. Border, Also Extortions Up by 24%
US Mission Mexico: ICE Special Agents Killed/Wounded at Fake Roadblock on Road to Monterrey
New Mexico Travel Warning: “Authorized Departure” remains in place for Mexico’s northern border cities, Monterrey to go partially unaccompanied with no minor dependents
US ConGen Monterrey in Mexico Goes Unaccompanied
US Consulate General Monterrey personnel urged to keep kids at home following American School Shootout
Danger Danger, Bang Bang — State Department Eyes Changes in Danger Pay
New Danger Pay Differential Posts: See Gainers, Plus Losers Include One Post on Evacuation Status
Republicans got mad, mad, mad about danger pay, local guards, violence; calls for closures of consulates in Mexico
Snapshot: The State Department’s Danger Pay Locations (as of February 2015)
Mexican Border Consular Posts Get 15% Danger Pay
Where dangerous conditions are not/not created equal …
State Dept’s New High Threat Posts Are Not All Danger Posts

American Diplomat Wounded in Targeted Attack in #Guadalajara, Mexico

Posted: 2:19 pm PT
Updated: 2:48 PT
[twitter-follow screen_name=’Diplopundit’ ]

 

An American diplomat serving at the U.S. Consulate General in Guadalajara, Mexico was shot Friday as he was reportedly leaving the city’s Plaza Sania mall.  The FBI is offering $20,000 for information leading to identification of the suspect. USCG Guadalajara has posted three video clips showing the shooter, and images of the attack on its Facebook page.

“Please call the United States embassy in Mexico City if you recognise him at (01-55)5080-2000.”

According to the Guardian citing Guadalajara’s El Informador newspaper, the victim was reportedly being treated at a local hospital for a gunshot wound in the upper chest.  The State Department has not named the person who was shot, but the Mexico Attorney General’s office identified him to the news media as Christopher Ashcraft.  The police source told the Guardian that he suspected the shooter was a professional killer. “He was probably aiming for the head but he missed as he leaned over to put his ticket in the machine.” 

A friend of the victim who notified this blog of the shooting said that the FSO is “conscious in the ICU and will likely be okay.”

Congressional Records dated September 8, 2015 indicates that one Christopher Nolan Ashcraft of the District of Columbia was appointed as a member of the Foreign Service to be Consular Officer and Secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States of America.

This latest attack will resonate deeply with USG employees overseas, especially in light of the latest GOP move in Congress of using embassy security funds as a “bargaining chip” to try and force the move of the US Embassy in Israel (see Senate Bill to Slash Embassy Security Funds in Half Until US Embassy Jerusalem Officially Opens). Or for that matter, the potential targeting of specific Federal employees with the recent reinstatement of the Holman Rule under the guise of “retrenching expenditures” (see House GOP Brings Back Holman Rule to “Retrench” Agency Spending, Slash Pay of Any Federal Employee).

USCG Guadalajara has issued the following security message:

As the investigation into the January 6 shooting of the U.S. Consulate employee continues, U.S citizens in the Guadalajara area are urged to restrict their movements outside their homes and places of work to those truly essential.  They should also take care not to fall into predictable patterns for those movements that are essential.  They should vary the times and routes of their movements.

Below is the CCTV footage by USCG Guadalajara showing a man in a purple T-shirt loitering by what is reported as the car park exit before pulling out a pistol, firing at the car, and then running away.

 

#