U.S. law enforcement agents, working with their Mexican counterparts, say they have discovered a cross-border drug smuggling tunnel on the US-Mexico border. The tunnel links warehouses in Tijuana, Mexico, with warehouses in Otay Mesa, California.
The elaborately constructed 400-yard long tunnel has wooden supports, electric cables for lighting and a ventilation system.
The tunnel was discovered on Tuesday by the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, a multi-agency including the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Customs and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in an operation which led to seizure of at least 14 tons of marijuana and arrest of two people.
AFP reports an official of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) service Derek Benner, said:
"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."
The tunnel, according to AFP, was uncovered after highway police officers stopped a truck allegedly seen leaving the warehouse. The Washington Post reports the truck was stopped on a highway in La Mesa and two men Cesar Beltran and Ruben Gomez, were arrested. The truck was carrying three tons of marijuana. The officers obtained a warrant to search the warehouse and found 6.5 tons of marijuana. A statement by the ICE, said:
"Inside the nondescript white building, investigators discovered the entrance to the passageway. From the warehouse floor, the tunnel plunges more than 20 feet to the bottom of the shaft...The passageway, measuring approximately four feet by three feet, is equipped with structural supports, electricity and ventilation."
Mexican law enforcement agents, who had been alerted by U.S. Customs, found an additional 6 tons of marijuana in the warehouse in Tijuana.
AP report says U.S. law enforcement agents, in recent times, have uncovered more than 75 similar cross-border tunnels with about 30 discovered in 2011 alone. AP reports California is favorite area for drug smugglers digging cross-border tunnels because its clay-like soil is easy to dig with shovels. Drug Enforcement Agency official William Sherman, said:
"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...The seizure of marijuana coupled with the loss of yet another tunnel will deal a heavy blow to those responsible for constructing this tunnel."
General Gilerto Landeros Briseno, on the Mexican side, told reporters that 778 packets of marijuana were discovered in the warehouse in Tijuana. The authorities already have a clue as to who might be responsible for the smuggling activities. Some of the packets of marijuana had images of "Captain America," Sprite and Bud Light. The Washington Post reports the images are codes to identify the owners of the packages. Law enforcement authorities believe the "Captain America" image is reference to "El Aquiles" one of lieutenants of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.
Mexico has for some time seen violence as drug cartels battle each other for control of the highly profitable trade routes from Mexico to the U.S.. AFP report says more than 45,000 people have been killed in drug-wars since 2006.
Mexico, under President Felipe Calderon, launched a major military offensive against the drug cartels. But critics say the offensive has not been successful.
The Washington Post reports the two arrested men face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana.