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Authorities have arrested close to 700 people in an ongoing US-led international crackdown on Mexican drug cartels, US officials told AFP on Friday.
Operation Fallen Hero-Bombardier was launched Thursday, just over a week after the shooting death of a US immigration officer in Mexico, with raids in the United States, Colombia, Brazil and Central America.
President Barack Obama meets March 3 in Washington with Mexican President Felipe Calderon amid rising concerns about security along the US-Mexico border and drug violence that shows no sign of abating.
There were 676 arrests as of 2200 GMT Friday, US Marshals Service spokesman Alfredo Perez said by telephone from the city of Houston, in the state of Texas bordering Mexico.
Authorities have seized $12 million in cash, 467 kilograms of cocaine, 21 pounds of heroin, almost 40,000 pounds of marijuana, 282 weapons, and 94 vehicles, Perez said.
Jaime Zapata, 32, and a second agent for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), came under fire on February 15 while driving in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosi in a region plagued by drug violence. Zapata died from his wounds.
“This coordinated effort shows that ICE special agent Jaime Zapata will not be forgotten,” said Robert Rutt, special agent in charge of ICE-Homeland Security investigations in Houston.
The Mexican army said Wednesday it captured a suspect, Julian Zapata Espinosa, who was identified as the leader of a group of hitmen for one of the bloodiest criminal gangs in Mexico, the Zetas gang.
Zapata Espinosa allegedly confessed to the attack but said that the US agents’ armored car had been confused with one belonging to a rival gang, Mexican media reported.
“While the murder is personal to ICE, we are arresting transnational gang members and drug traffickers who have links to Mexican cartels because of their criminal activity and not simply out of retaliation,” Rutt said.
In addition to raids in several US states, other operations have been carried out in Central America, Brazil and Colombia, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The killing of US agent Zapata was the first in Mexico since Enrique “Kiki” Camarena was kidnapped, tortured and killed while working undercover for the US Drug Enforcement Administration 26 years ago.
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