US and Mexican authorities have reportedly teamed up to arrest two dozen members of the Sinaloa Cartel in a secretive operation that was carried out in the Mexican state of Sonora along the border with Arizona.
Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said the joint US-Mexican sting — dubbed "Mexican Operation Diablo Express" — dealt a "strong blow" to the cartel, and that assault-type weapons and hundreds of pounds of drugs were seized.
"Due to the sensitive nature, this operation was conducted with utmost secrecy to maintain the element of surprise and to ensure the safety of the Mexican law enforcement officers executing it," Christensen said in a statement late Saturday.
The statement did not name the 24 people taken into custody, but said the operation targeted high-level members of the drug trafficking organization. The Sinaloa Cartel is widely believed to Mexico's most powerful criminal group, and is responsible for smuggling millions of pounds of heroin, cocaine, meth, and marijuana to the US and around the world.
The arrests were reportedly carried out on Friday in the vicinity of Sonoyta, a city in Sonora that is just across the border from Lukeville, Arizona, and directly south of the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, a vast wilderness area in the Arizona desert. The refuge has earned a reputation as a soft point in the border that is exploited by drug smugglers and human traffickers.
Mexican authorities could not be reached immediately for further information on Sunday, but the operation was apparently carried out by Mexico's Policia Federal. On the US side, Christiansen said the operation was the work of a task force that involved agents from Homeland Security Investigations, the DEA, FBI, Arizona Department of Public Safety, and police from Scottsdale, Arizona. Christensen said US authorities will ask Mexico to extradite the 24 suspects who were arrested on Friday.
The recent operation came less than a month after Mexican authorities recaptured Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzmán. After tunneling out of a maximum security prison on July 11, 2015, Guzmán, who had escaped once before in 2001, was caught on January 8 after a shootout in coastal city of Los Mochis, Sinaloa. Guzmán is one of several leaders of the cartel, and other top bosses — including Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada and Rafael Caro Quintero — are still at large.
Reuters contributed to this report
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