MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s government has requested the extradition of six U.S. citizens for weapons trafficking, including three people linked to a botched federal gun-tracking operation, Attorney General Marisela Morales said.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this and we’re going to punish ... whomever is responsible for these (crimes),” Morales told the lower house of Mexico’s Congress in reference to the “Fast and Furious” program, which was run out of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Phoenix field office in 2009 and 2010.
She said two extradition proceedings are underway against U.S. citizens suspected of smuggling weapons to Mexico.
One of the requests involves three people believed to have acquired “a large number of weapons” under the Fast and Furious program, the Mexican attorney general told lawmakers Wednesday.
As part of that undercover operation, ATF agents allowed thousands of guns to be illegally acquired from Arizona gun shops by straw purchasers and smuggled into Mexico.
The idea behind letting the weapons “walk” across the border was to trace them to powerful drug cartels, but once the program was underway ATF agents realized they had no dependable way to monitor the firearms, ultimately losing track of some 2,000 guns.
Weapons traced to Fast and Furious have appeared at more than 100 crime scenes in Mexico and two were found at the location where U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent Brian Terry was killed in southern Arizona last December while trying to arrest a group of armed suspects.
Morales said the second extradition request involves another three individuals who purchased high-powered weapons in Texas that they later transported to Mexico.
The attorney general told lawmakers that another two U.S. citizens are currently on trial in Mexico for smuggling guns and grenades into the country.
“We’ve assumed our commitment to inhibit arms smuggling through the effective use of weapons-tracking (software),” she said.
Opposition lawmakers have criticized what they say is the Mexican government’s lack of urgency in demanding that Washington investigate and punish those responsible for Fast and Furious.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who oversees ATF as head of the Justice Department, is currently the target of a probe by leading Republicans in Congress, some of whom say he should resign over the scandal.
Morales, meanwhile, acknowledged Mexicans’ “concern and indignation” and reiterated that the effort to combat criminal gangs “is a shared responsibility.”
That means Mexico and the United States must continue to develop ways to work together to crack down on organized crime, “always with respect for each nation’s sovereignty,” the attorney general said.
Turf battles among drug cartels and clashes between mobsters and security forces have left nearly 50,000 dead in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon took office in late 2006.
Calderon says the United States is largely responsible for the violence because of the high demand for illegal drugs there and the cross-border flow of weapons to the violent cartels.