News24

'Major' US-Mexico drug tunnel found

2011-11-17 13:37

Los Angeles - US authorities announced they had uncovered a "major" drug-smuggling tunnel under the US-Mexico border, the latest such find on the troubled frontier.

US and Mexican officers seized at least 14 tons of dagga and arrested two people linked to the "sophisticated" tunnel, which linked warehouses in Tijuana in Mexico and Otay Mesa on the US side in southern California.

The 365m-long tunnel, complete with electricity and ventilation, was unearthed on Tuesday by the multi-agency San Diego Tunnel Task Force after authorities spotted a suspicious truck leaving the Otay Mesa warehouse.

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) service trumpeted the find as a major victory over Mexican drug cartels responsible for vast trafficking across the border into to the US.

"The drug cartels mistakenly believe they can elude detection by taking their contraband underground, but, again and again, we've been able to find these tunnels and shut them down," said ICE official Derek Benner.

Trade routes

The operation began when highway police stopped the suspicious truck and found three tons of dagga. Two men were arrested and a warrant was issued to search the warehouse, where agents found another 6.5 tons of dagga.

"Inside the nondescript white building, investigators discovered the entrance to the passageway. From the warehouse floor, the tunnel plunges more than 20 feet [6m] to the bottom of the shaft.

"The passageway, measuring approximately four feet [1.3m] by three feet [1m], is equipped with structural supports, electricity and ventilation," it added, saying investigators believe the tunnel was only recently completed.

Mexican counterparts, alerted by the US side, entered the Tijuana warehouse and found five to six additional tons of dagga.

The find was made by the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, which combines officers from agencies including ICE, US Customs and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

US authorities have detected more than 75 cross-border smuggling tunnels over the last four years, mostly in California and Arizona. The latest one is the sixth large-scale tunnel discovered in San Diego since 2006.

"The fact that this is the third sophisticated cross border tunnel found within a year's time demonstrates the cartels will stop at nothing to smuggle their drugs into the US," said DEA San Diego head William R Sherman.

"The seizure of marijuana coupled with the loss of yet another tunnel will deal a heavy blow to those responsible for constructing this tunnel."

Mexico has seen a wave of unrest in recent years as powerful drug cartels have battled over lucrative trade routes to the US, with more than 45 000 people killed in drug-related violence since 2006.

That year President Felipe Calderon launched a massive military crackdown, which critics say has led the cartels to develop more advanced tactics and more brutal methods without bringing security to border communities.