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Mr. Hoover said firearms smuggled out of the United States to Mexico were being used to facilitate the drug trade on both sides of the border and that the cartels were paying for the weapons from the profits from their money laundering, distribution and transportation networks.

U.S. authorities have said 90 percent of the firearms either recovered or interdicted in Mexico originated from sources within the United States. Mr. Calderon and Mexican Attorney General Medina Mora have identified the smuggling of U.S.-sourced firearms as the “number one” crime problem affecting Mexican security.

Many of the cartels’ victims are Mexican police officers. They include the commander of the Policia Estatal Investigadora and his driver, who were ambushed and killed in August in Baviacora, Sonora, about 150 miles southwest of Douglas. Some of the police officials were killed with AK-47 assault rifles. Three were decapitated.

Cartel members also use grenade launchers, body armor and Kevlar helmets.