SALT LAKE CITY — Congress should consider declaring Mexican drug cartels as terrorist organizations in the wake of a savage attack on U.S. citizens that left three mothers and six children dead, Sen. Mike Lee said Wednesday.
“It has been noted in recent days that Mexico is leaning dangerously toward becoming a failed state, and we have not seen enough action toward addressing the threat that it presents to not only the Mexican people but to the American people,” the Utah Republican said.
Lee said when cartels are as powerful, bold and callous toward human life as they have become, it’s time to take the threat seriously and figure out the best steps forward. The argument that Mexican drug cartels should be designated as terrorist groups has some “heft” to it, he said.
“Sometimes it takes something like this to jolt us into a full awareness of the fact that this is not a problem that is going to remain isolated and south of our border,” Lee said on KSL Newsradio’s “Dave & Dujanovic” show.
Gunmen opened fire on three SUVs along a dirt road in northern Mexico on Monday, killing three women and six young children with ties to Utah.
Mexican officials said the attackers may have mistaken the group’s large SUVs for those of a rival gang, according to the Associated Press. The Juarez drug cartel and its armed wing, known as “La Linea,” or “The Line,” are fighting a vicious turf war against a faction of the Sinaloa cartel known as the “Salazar.”
“Those who attacked the occupants (of the vehicles), they let the children go, so that we can deduce that it was not a targeted attack” against the families, said army chief of staff Gen. Hector Mendoza.
Mendoza said the ambush consisted of two attacks, two hours apart at two places along the road.
Lee said he doesn’t believe the attacks were random or a case of mistaken identity.
“This appears to have been very systematic and targeted and well thought out. It’s one of the things that make it so disturbing and so perplexing,” he said on the radio show.
The women and children, Lee said, didn’t do anything to provoke anyone and posed no threat.
“This was nothing short of a savage act of cruelty,” he said.
Lee said both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence called him expressing concern about the attack. He said they are taking it seriously.
Trump earlier this year said that he was seriously thinking about designating Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, introduced a bill in March to direct the State Department to determine whether several Mexican drug cartels qualify as foreign terrorist organizations under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
Lee said he also spoke with Martha Bárcena, the Mexican ambassador to the United States. He said she told him the Mexican government is committed to investigating and bringing the perpetrators to justice.