WASHINGTON — Suspected drug cartel "hit teams" murdered an American consular employee and her husband in the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez as well as the Mexican husband of a co-worker in separate attacks, a US official said Sunday.
The victims came under fire in separate locations as they were driving Saturday after attending the same social event, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Suspected drug cartel hit teams fired on locally employed staff, Consulate General Juarez, in their privately owned vehicles," the official said.
"The attacks resulted in three fatalities -- two American citizens and one Mexican citizen," he said.
A US woman who worked in the consulate's American citizens services section was with her American husband and infant daughter when they came under fire, the official said.
The infant daughter survived the attack unharmed, but the woman and her husband were killed, he said.
In the second attack, a Mexican consulate employee was following her husband and two children in a separate car, when her husband's vehicle came under fire, killing him and wounding the two children, the official said.
"Both families had attended the same social event earlier in the afternoon off-post away from the consulate," the US official said. "It has not been determined if the victims were specifically targeted."
In a separate statement, President Barack Obama said he was "deeply saddened and outraged by the news of the brutal murders," said National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer.
After the slayings, the State Department announced Sunday that US diplomats working in six northern Mexico consulates were authorized to send family members home because of security concerns.
The Department authorized "the departure of the dependents of US government personnel from US consulates in ... Tijuana, Nogales, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, Monterrey and Matamoros until April 12."
The departure authorization only affect relatives of US government personnel in those cities, the statement read.
The travel warning said that due to the "recent violent attacks," US citizens were urged to "delay unnecessary travel to parts of Durango, Coahuila and Chihuahua states."
"While millions of US citizens safely visit Mexico each year ... violence in the country has increased," read the State Department warning.
"Drug cartels and associated criminal elements have retaliated violently against individuals who speak out against them or whom they otherwise view as a threat to their organizations," it read.
The State Department travel warning was issued "coupled with the increase of violence in that northern area," said Department spokesman Fred Lash.
"It's not an ordered departure, it's up to them if they want to come out or not," said Lash.
Ciudad Juarez, population 1.3 million, is a major point for smuggling illegal drugs into the United States. It is immediately across the border from El Paso, Texas.
More than 2,600 people were murdered in Ciudad Juarez in 2009 in drug-related violence.
The war between rival drug cartels to control major border crossing points, as well as the government's attempt to crackdown on the cartels, has killed more than 15,000 people across Mexico over the last three years, according to government figures.
The State Department warning said that some of the recent clashes "have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades."
"Large firefights have taken place in towns and cities across Mexico, but occur mostly in northern Mexico," the statement read. "During some of these incidents, US citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area."
"The expression suggests that the dance is over and that the time has come to pay the fiddler. However, its derivation is more complicated. 'Gig' or 'Jig' is a very old term for a lively dance, but in Elizabethan times the word became slang for a practical joke or a trick. 'The jig is up' - meaning your trick or game is finished, has been exposed, we're onto you now - derives from this obsolete slang word, not the 'jig' that is a lively dance." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997). Another reference says a jig was "probably a dance commonly known throughout all of western Europe fifteen centuries or more ago. But in England, around 1600, 'jig' became also a slang term for a practical term, a bit of trickery."