Mexico official denies helicopter crossed border, fired shots

Mexico official denies helicopter crossed border, fired shots

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - A Mexican law enforcement helicopter crossed the U.S. border southwest of Tucson and fired shots on the morning of Thursday, June 26, according to a statement from U.S. Border Patrol. An official with the Mexican attorney general's office on Friday denied that the helicopter entered U.S. airspace and that shots were fired by Mexican authorities.

The release said the helicopter crossed approximately 100 yards into Arizona, about eight miles southwest of the village of San Miguel on the Tohono O'odham Nation, while on a law enforcement operation near the border.

Two shots were fired from the helicopter but no injuries or damage to U.S. property were reported, said the statement.

However, Mexican authorities have denied shooting at agents and say they were under attack during a mission to find smugglers on the border.

Tomás Zerón, the director of the Mexican attorney general's office investigative office, said that Mexican military and federal police who were conducting an operation on a ranch in Altar, Sonora, were shot at by criminals. Mexican authorities never fired any weapons and in fact never crossed into the U.S. side of the border, he said.

Art del Cueto, president of the local border patrol union, said four agents were in a marked patrol vehicle when they were shot at.

"They could say they didn't fire at the agents intentionally but for them to say that they were no shots fired within the United States, toward the United States Border Patrol, is a lie. They got in contact with our managers and apologized for the incident," del Cueto said.

The Mexican helicopter was 15 yards (14 meters) from the border agents when they came under fire, del Cueto said.

Sebastián Galván, a spokesman for the Mexican Consulate in Tucson, said the office was gathering information but did not have any details yet.

This incident was not the first one in which the Mexican military has veered across the international boundary.

In January, U.S. border agents confronted two heavily armed Mexican soldiers who crossed 50 yards inside Arizona, the Los Angeles Times reported. A standoff ensued, but nobody was hurt.

In 2011, more than 30 uniformed Mexican soldiers in military vehicles crossed the Rio Grande without authorization in an incident that was believed to be inadvertent.

According to a source within U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the June 26 incident occurred at about 5:30-5:45 a.m. near the Horse Peak Ranch, which is on the Mexico side of the border, about 22 miles south of Sells, AZ. The area is heavily monitored by U.S. Border Patrol because of frequent illegal smuggling activity involving both drugs and humans.

According to the CBP source, Mexican authorities raided the ranch within the past year at the request of the U.S. government. No information about the results of that raid were made available.

Agent Peter Bidegain, the Tucson Sector public information officer, said there is no information to suggest the shots fired from the helicopter were intentionally fired at agents.

The incident is currently under investigation.

Tucson News Now's Som Lisaius can be followed on Twitter at @SomLisaiusKOLD.

Copyright 2014 Tucson News Now. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.