Mexican attorney general: drug cartels recruiting hit men in U.S.


By E. EDUARDO CASTILLO
Associated Press Writer

MEXICO CITY- Mexican drug cartels are recruiting hired killers in the United States because most of their local gunmen are behind bars, the federal attorney general's office said Tuesday.

The country's anti-drug prosecutor, Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, said in a news release that "the large majority" of gunmen for the powerful Sinaloa cartel are U.S. citizens who live in north of the border.

Vasconcelos said the Sinaloa cartel's hit men come primarily from a U.S. group of hired killers called "Los Lobos." He did not say where the group is based in the United States nor what led Mexican authorities to believe the gunmen are U.S. citizens.

The Sinaloa cartel, based out of the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, is led by alleged drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who escaped from prison in 2001. He is one of Mexico's most-wanted fugitives and U.S. authorities have offered a $5 million reward for his capture.

Mexican police say Guzman has waged a bloody war with the Gulf cartel for control of the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas. Nuevo Laredo has been besieged by violence with a record 175 killings so far this year.

Vasconcelos said while the Sinaloa cartel is looking north for recruits, the Gulf cartel is heading south.

"Las Zetas," a group of former elite Mexican soldiers who now work for the Gulf drug cartel, has been recruiting ex-members of an elite Guatemalan paratrooper counterinsurgency unit known for its grueling jungle-survival training.

The anti-drug prosecutor said Las Zetas have been hit so hard by recent arrests "that these groups are trying to recover their death squads by recruiting" in Guatemala "because they no longer have the ability to respond to the violence that they are (confronting)."

Osiel Cardenas, the reputed lead of the Gulf cartel, was captured in March 2003 and remain in a maximum security prison outside Mexico City.

In October, Guatemalan police arrested seven alleged members of Las Zetas near the Mexican border. They were found with various weapons and cocaine. Three were later released.

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