- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

Two more men have been arrested in Arizona in an ongoing investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) into a trafficking operation accused of selling weapons to Mexican nationals, including drug dealers and alien smugglers.

The arrests this week of Antonio Moran, 20, and Francisco Coronado, 28, both of Douglas, Ariz., brings to seven the number of suspected gun dealers detained in the international probe, which began in September. Both men were arraigned on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Tucson on firearms charges.

Sigberto Celaya, ATF Tucson resident agent-in-charge, said Mr. Moran was taken into custody Sunday on an ATF warrant as he crossed into the United States from Mexico at the Douglas port of entry. Mr. Celaya said ATF agents arrested Mr. Coronado on Tuesday.

Mr. Celaya said ATF agents documented the sale of at least 84 firearms, including AK-47 assault rifles, by gang members in the past few weeks. The guns later were smuggled into Mexico and purchased by Mexican nationals at twice their value, he said.

He described the trafficking operation as “a giant problem” because of Douglas’ location and the ability of U.S. residents to purchase an unlimited number of weapons. Mr. Celaya said ATF investigators think many of the weapons are being sold to drug and alien smugglers, creating a “dramatic increase” in border violence.

Mr. Celaya said an AK-47, which commands a price of $400 in the United States, is selling for $800 in Mexico. Developed in Russia in 1946, 30 million to 50 million copies and variations of the AK-47 have been produced worldwide, making it the most widely used rifle in the world. As a fully automatic weapon, it is capable of firing 600 rounds per minute.

“[M]any of these weapons are coming back into the United States, having been used only to protect drug dealers moving narcotics across the border and those smuggling undocumented aliens into the United States,” Mr. Celaya said.

Last month, ATF agents, U.S. marshals and Douglas police arrested four men and a woman on charges of falsifying statements while purchasing a firearm. The five earned as much as $400 for each “straw purchase” of an AK-47. A straw purchase is when one person buys a firearm for another under false pretenses.

The five appeared before a U.S. magistrate in Tucson on Oct. 24; four were released on bond and one was ordered held without bail.

The investigation began when Mexico’s Federal Investigations Agency arrested two Mexican citizens in the state of Sonora, which borders Douglas, for trafficking in firearms. The suspects had nine firearms, including five AK-47s, in their possession when apprehended.

The latest arrests were made one month after ATF Director Carl J. Truscott met with U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza and Mexican Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca pledged closer cooperation to curb firearms trafficking.

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