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updated: 2/13/2013 10:27 AM

Suit filed in 2011 ambush of U.S. agents in Mexico

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Associated Press

MCALLEN, Texas -- The family of a U.S. Customs Enforcement agent killed in a 2011 ambush on a Mexican highway and another agent who survived filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to hold the government and nearly two-dozen other defendants accountable in the attack.

The federal lawsuit arises from the Feb. 15, 2011, attack on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents Jaime Zapata and Victor Avila. They were attacked in their armored sport-utility vehicle near San Luis Potosi, Mexico, shortly after picking up some equipment from another agent.

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Zapata died and Avila was seriously wounded.

The lawsuit names the agents' supervisors, the company that armored their vehicle and gun shops that allegedly sold two of the weapons used. It alleges that Zapata and Avila never should have been sent on the dangerous mission, their armored SUV was flawed and at least two of the guns used in the attack were bought in the United States and eventually smuggled to Mexico.

On Feb. 15, 2011, Zapata and Avila drove from Mexico City to San Luis Potosi to pick up equipment from another agent from the Monterrey office. Shortly after beginning their return trip the pair was ambushed by armed men. Zapata parked the vehicle, but when he did so the automatic door locks unlocked. Gunmen pried open the door and in their struggle to close it the agents partially lowered the window which allowed their attackers to fire inside.

Julian Zapata Espinoza is awaiting trial on murder and attempted murder charges in federal court in Washington, D.C. Zapata Espinoza was allegedly a member of the Zetas cartel who Mexican authorities say mistook the agents' Suburban for rivals.

Three weapons believed used in the attack have been recovered though information has only been released on two of them, according to federal court documents.

One was a 7.62 mm AK-47 style Draco handgun that federal authorities traced to a straw purchase by Otilio Osorio from a Texas gun shop. Osorio and his brother were sentenced to prison on weapons charges. Another was an AK-47-style semiautomatic assault rifle bought from JJ's Pawn Shop in Beaumont in another straw purchase and passed into Mexico by Manuel Barba, who has also been sentenced to prison.

Osorio, Barba and the pawnshop are among those named as defendants in the lawsuit.

In a procedural notice to the government filed last year, the agents' lawyers sought $25 million for Zapata's family and $12.5 million for Avila. No figures were included in the lawsuit filed Tuesday.

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