United States Consulate General(WASHINGTON) -- The man accused of shooting a U.S. consular official in Mexico appeared in federal court Tuesday afternoon in Virginia, where he faces one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person.
Zia Zafar, 31, allegedly shot Vice Consul Christopher Ashcraft once in the chest as he was driving out of a gym parking lot in Guadalajara last Friday, according to the federal complaint against him. Ashcraft survived the shooting and was taken to a nearby hospital, where he remains. Zafar was apprehended by Mexican law enforcement officials in Guadalajara on Saturday, the complaint states.
Zafar, of Chino Hills, California, was then sent back to the U.S. for prosecution, landing in Virginia Monday night, a Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed outside the courtroom Tuesday. Zafar appeared in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia because it is where he first landed in the country after the shooting took place, the spokesperson said.
The U.S. government is considering Zafar a flight risk and is seeking his detainment throughout his court proceedings.
Zafar wore a blue navy jumpsuit when he appeared in court and had a shaved head. He held his hands behind his back and was under the watch of four U.S. Marshals. The maximum sentence for one count of attempted murder of an internationally protected person outside the United States is 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.
A probable cause hearing will take place on Friday afternoon, when a judge will also decide whether Zafar will continue to be detained. A motive for the shooting has not been determined, the DOJ spokesperson said. Zafar is seeking court-appointed counsel. He did not enter a plea during Tuesday's appearance.
As vice consul, Ashcraft is considered a diplomat, according to the complaint. When FBI special agents interviewed Ashcraft at the hospital, he said that when he exited the gym he noticed an individual -- later identified by authorities as Zafar -- wearing blue scrubs, white shoes and what appeared to be a wig.
Ashcraft told the FBI that it felt as though the individual was waiting him, the complaint states. As he walked to a payment terminal to pay for parking, he noticed the individual following him, according to the complaint. Ashcraft told the FBI he felt threatened, so he walked to a populated area in the parking garage and got into his car once the individual was no longer following him. Ashcraft was shot once as he drove toward the garage's exit, the complaint states.
Surveillance footage from the parking garage and shopping center shows a man -- later identified as Zafar -- wearing what appears to be a wig, sunglasses, blue scrubs and white shoes as he follows Ashcraft from the gym to the payment terminal at approximately 6:16 p.m., the complaint states.
At 6:18 p.m., the man is seen at the top of a vehicle exit ramp pacing back and forth with his hand in his right pocket, according to the complaint. About a minute later, Ashcraft's car is seen pulling up to the garage exit, and the man is seen taking aim with a pistol and firing into the windshield before he flees the scene, the complaint states.
On Sunday, the consulate posted videos and images of the incident on its Facebook page, offering a reward of $20,000 for information that would help identify the suspect.
Mexican authorities were able to nab Zafar due to a Starbucks receipt. Police obtained surveillance video from a Starbucks in the shopping center located next to the gym where Ashcraft was shot, the complaint states. In the video, a man matching the description of the shooting suspect is seen at the counter ordering a drink. Police also obtained a receipt printed on Jan. 6, 2017, at 5:19 p.m. showing that a total of 58 Mexican pesos was paid by credit card.
The receipt was signed "Zafar/Zia," according to the complaint.
Zafar was born in 1985 and entered Mexico on a student visa, authorities determined by searching the Mexican Immigration database, the complaint states. Zafar holds a U.S. passport and a California driver's license. The signature on records officials obtained from the California DMV "bears remarkable similarity" to the signature seen on the Starbucks receipt, according to the complaint.
Mexican police were able to detain Zafar at his home in Guadalajara after finding the address in his Mexican immigration records, the complaint states. When police searched the residence Saturday night, they found a Honda Civic with California license plates registered in Zafar's name. They then detained him inside the residence, according to the complaint.
Inside the home, police also found a pistol and several forms of identification bearing the name Zia Zafar, as well as a pair of sunglasses and a wig similar to ones seen in the surveillance video, the complaint states.
In a statement, Secretary of State John Kerry called the shooting a "heinous attack against our Foreign Service Officer colleague in Guadalajara, Mexico."
"My thoughts and prayers remain with this officer and his family during this difficult time," Kerry added. "I wish him a speedy recovery."
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