US DEA agent murdered during suspected attempted robbery in Colombia

Colombian police are hunting down a group of men suspected of killing a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agent late Thursday in what authorities believe was a robbery gone wrong.

DEA Special Agent James “Terry” Watson, 42, was heading home after watching the NBA finals between Miami and San Antonio in an upscale neighborhood of northern Bogota when men tried to rob him inside a taxi. Colombian police speculated that Watson resisted and was stabbed in the melee. Passersby found him on the street and took him to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Colombian police said.

Police Gen. Jose Roberto Leon said Watson was likely targeted for a “ paseo millionario,” or a “millionaire’s ride,” where victims are forced to use their ATM cards to empty their bank accounts. Leon said a special unit had been formed to investigate the case and that officers were combing through security camera footage from the area.

The murder is a black eye for Colombia, which is trying to reinvent itself as a tourism and investment haven. President Juan Manuel Santos lamented the crime and said the country had made great strides in reducing its murder rate.

“Events like the one that happened last night, where a DEA agent was assassinated in a taxi, erase in a single sweep all the work we’ve done to reduce homicides,” Santos said.

He also asked authorities to pull out all the stops to find the killers. The government offered a 50 million peso reward, or about $26,000, for information that leads to the arrest of the assailants.

The DEA said Watson was from Louisiana and had been in Colombia for about three years. He was assigned to the coastal city of Cartagena but was on temporary duty in Bogota. They would not provide details about the nature of his work.

In addition to serving in Colombia, Watson had been posted in Honolulu, Hawaii and San Juan, Puerto Rico, and was deployed on three occasions to Afghanistan. Prior to his DEA service, he worked for the U.S. Marshals Service and served in the United States Army, the DEA said.

“We are all saddened by this devastating loss of a member of the DEA family,” DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said in a statement. “Terry was a brave and talented DEA Special Agent who served our agency for 13 years. These are the worst days for anyone in law enforcement and we grieve Terry’s loss.”