Thursday, February 24, 2005

Mexican drug lords recruit police and soldiers

Former Mexican soldiers, police and federal agents, originally trained as an elite force of anti-drug commandos, are working as mercenaries for Mexican drug lords, bringing a new wave of drug-related killings into the United States:

Law-enforcement and intelligence officials said the well-armed gang, known as the "Zetas," is linked to hundreds of killings and dozens of kidnappings on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly over a wide area of southeastern Texas from Laredo to Brownsville and in cities throughout Mexico.

In protecting established drug corridors into the United States, gang leaders have targeted U.S. Border Patrol agents and state and local police, authorities said, along with Mexican military and law-enforcement personnel, even offering bounties of up to $50,000.

U.S. intelligence officials said the Zetas might have obtained Soviet-made SA-7 shoulder-mounted missile launchers off the black market, although information on the purchase is sketchy. The Bush administration has been concerned in recent weeks about the fate of Soviet-provided SA-7s in Nicaragua, about 80 of which have not been accounted for by the government and are thought to have been sold on the black market.

Mexico's top anti-drug prosecutor, Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, recently described the Zetas as "extremely violent," adding that its members were "much feared in the region because of the bloodshed they unleash." But the Mexican government has sought to downplay the gang's significance, saying the Zetas had been targeted by Mexican authorities and are on the run -- a position disputed by U.S. officials and others.

A report this month by a U.S. security consulting firm hired by the State and Defense departments to study the presence of weapons in Latin America called the Zetas an expanding gang of mercenaries with intimate knowledge of Mexican drug-trafficking methods and routes.

Strategic Forecasting Inc., also known as Stratfor, said the organization maintained "connections to the Mexican law-enforcement establishment," noting that those connections had given the gang virtually unfettered access through the southern U.S. border.

"Based on the activities of both the drug cartels and their hired guns, sources suggest it is only a matter of time before Mexican drug wars spill over onto U.S. streets," the report said. "There is some evidence, in fact, that a number of unsolved drug-related murders in the Southwest could be linked to the Zetas.

"If true, it suggests the Mexican cartels' paramilitary forces already are operating within the United States," the report said.

Around the Blogosphere:

Mexican crime group has come as far as Nashville

Wrong Headline

U.S. officials say Zetas have killed in Texas

Dogs of War Running Loose

Mexican Commandos in U.S.

Is It Time To Decriminalize Some Drugs?

Mexican Assassins A Growing Threat

Mexican "Zetas" killing people in Texas

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