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Mexican hit men stalk U.S.

Drug lords’ gunmen target narcotics thieves, feds say

- The Washington Times - Friday, October 15, 2010

Drug-smuggling gangs in Mexico have sent well-armed assassins, or "sicarios," into Arizona to locate and kill bandits who are ambushing and stealing loads of cocaine, marijuana and heroin headed to buyers in the U.S., the Department of Homeland Security has warned Arizona law enforcement authorities.

In a memo first sent in May but widely circulated since, the department said a group of "15, very well-equipped and armed" assassins complete with body armor had been sent into the state to identify, locate and kill the drug thieves, who are thought to be independent operators.

The memo said the assassins had been dispatched to the Vekol Valley, a well-established and widely travelled drug-smuggling corridor running north and south across Interstate 8 between the Arizona towns of Casa Grande and Gila Bend. The valley is a direct link to both the interstate and to Phoenix, giving drug smugglers the option of shipping their goods to California or to major cities both north and east.

Disguised as groups of backpackers but carrying empty boxes covered with burlap, the memo said the paid assassins would attempt to "draw out the bandits." Once identified, it said, the assassins "will take out the bandits."

"We just received information from a proven, credible confidential source who reported that a meeting was held in Puerto Penasco, in which every smuggling organization who utilizes the Vekol Valley was told to attend," the memo said. "This included rival groups within the Guzman cartel."

Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman Loera heads what formally is known as the Sinaloa Cartel, which smuggles multi-ton loads of cocaine from Colombia through Mexico into the United States. One of the most powerful and dangerous drug gangs in Mexico, it also is known as the Guzman cartel and has been linked to the production, smuggling and distribution of Mexican marijuana and "black tar" heroin.

The federal government recently posted signs along Interstate 8 in the Vekol Valley warning travelers the area is unsafe because of drug and alien smugglers. The signs were posted by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) along a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 8 between Casa Grande and Gila Bend, warning travelers they are entering an "active drug- and human-smuggling area" and may encounter "armed criminals and smuggling vehicles traveling at high rates of speed."

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu, whose county includes the valley, told The Washington Times earlier this month that Mexican drug cartels have posted scouts on the high points around the valley to control movement in the area. He said they have radios, optics and "night-vision goggles as good as anything law enforcement has."

"This is going on here in Arizona … 30 miles from the fifth-largest city in the United States," he said.

The sheriff said he asked the Obama administration for 3,000 National Guard soldiers to patrol the border, but got 15 signs along Interstate 8 instead.

Rising violence along the border has coincided with a crackdown in Mexico on warring drug gangs, who are seeking control of smuggling routes into the United States. Mexican President Felipe Calderon has waged a bloody campaign against powerful drug cartels, and more than 28,000 people have died since he launched his crackdown in late 2006.

Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, has called the signs "an insult to the citizens of border states." He said American citizens should not have to be fearful for their lives on U.S. soil.

"If the federal government would do its job of enforcing immigration laws, we could better secure the border and better protect the citizens of border states," he aid.

Two years ago, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the investigative arm of Homeland Security, said in a report that border gangs were becoming increasingly ruthless and had begun targeting not only rivals, but federal, state and local police. ICE said the violence had risen dramatically as part of "an unprecedented surge."

The Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Center, in its 2010 drug-threat assessment report, called the cartels "the single greatest drug-trafficking threat to the United States." It said Mexican gangs had established operations in every area of the United States and were expanding into rural and suburban areas.

It said assaults against U.S. law enforcement officers along the southwestern border were on the increase — up 46 percent against U.S. Border Patrol agents alone.

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