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The US gun smugglers recruited by one of Mexico’s most brutal cartels December 8, 2011

It was nothing more than a routine inspection for federal agents. But as they browsed the records of Carter’s Country gun shop in Houston, investigators picked up on a series of big sales. For cash.

Federal agents were alerted not only by the number of guns involved – sometimes a dozen at a time – but the type. Time and again buyers walked out of Carter’s Country clutching assault rifles, semi-automatic pistols with armour-piercing bullets and powerful sniper rifles accurate to more than a mile.

Agents of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) concluded there could only be one customer for such a collection: the Mexican drug cartels fighting a bloody war against each other, the government and civilians south of the Texas border.

A five-year ATF investigation, that continues to this day, identified 23 people in Texas recruited as buyers by one of Mexico‘s most notorious cartels, including several who were in high school together, three brothers and a man whose cousin married in to a drug lord’s family. They spent a total of $368,000 on 339 weapons for Los Zetas, a brutal and violent cartel with much blood on its hands. The cartel paid US citizens and legal residents who could pass the criminal background check in Houston gun shops – what the ATF calls “straw purchasers” – up to $500 for each set of weapons they bought.

As the prosecutor in the trial of one member of the ring put it: “He wasn’t just arming local street thugs. He was arming an infantry squad.”

That observation is backed by what is known about the scale of the smuggling and how some of the weapons were used.

More than 100 of the guns bought by the ring have been recovered in Mexico, four in Guatemala and one in the US. They have been identified in the killings of at least 18 Mexican police officers and civilians, and the deaths of 47 cartel-related gunmen.

The ATF said that some of the weapons were used in the 2007 Acapulco police massacre, in which five police officers and two secretaries were killed, a kidnapping and murder in Puebla, the ambush of police officers in Mexico City and during the arrests of top level Zeta enforcers.

That’s just a fraction of the 45,000 deaths in Mexico’s five-year drug war, a large proportion using some of the tens of thousands of weapons bought with ease over the counter in the US, with a driving licence and a quick background check for a criminal record, or at gun shows, with no background check or identification required, and smuggled across the border.

So far, 16 of the two dozen weapons buyers identified by federal agents have been charged as part of the five-year investigation. Fourteen have been tried – all admitted their guilt. Two are still on the run. The latest to be jailed, Christian Garza, a 26-year-old car windscreen repairman, was sentenced to three years in January for his part as a “manager” in recruiting other buyers, mostly the poor and financially desperate.

A key player in the ring was unemployed machinist John Hernandez, who spent $25,000 on 23 guns, including 15 assault rifles and weapons carrying bullets capable of piercing body armour, known as “police killers” among the Mexican cartels. Those weapons have been tied to eight murders.

Prosecutors said that some of the weapons were recovered after being used in wha they called “shocking crimes”. They included an assault rifle used in the kidnapping and murder of a cattle buyer two months after it was purchased, and another gun at the scene of the Acapulco police massacre when cartel members dressed as soldiers and claiming to be carrying out a weapons inspection disarmed a group of policemen and then shot them. One of the recovered weapons was a Bushmaster carbine, a civilian version of the army’s M-16 assault rifle, purchased by Hernandez at Academy sporting goods in Houston.

Hernandez recruited friends he knew from Klein Forest high school to also act as straw buyers. They included three brothers with the last name Pineda.

Hernandez received the longest sentence of the ring when he was jailed for eight years. But, as there is no law banning gun trafficking in the US, all prosecutors could get him on was falsely claiming to be buying the weapons for himself.

Juan Pablo Gutierrez received nearly four years for buying 28 guns for about $21,000 on behalf of the cartel. The weapons including 10 assault rifles modelled on the army’s M-16 gun.

According to prosecutors, Gutierrez was purchasing guns for a cousin who is married to the daughter of a notorious Mexican lord, Osiel Cardenas-Guillen, who was leader of the Gulf Cartel.

Among the fugitives is David Alcaide, a 24-year-old from the Houston area. He is accused of spending $42,763 on 37 guns.

Houston is the single largest source of weapons shipped to the cartels. J Dewey Webb, the ATF special agent in charge of pursuing gun trafficking in southern Texas, said the cartels are attracted by the sheer number of gun outlets in the city, which run in to the many hundreds.

“They can come to the fourth largest city in the country and buy these guns and it’s a lot harder for us to see what’s going on because they can go to a different gun dealer every day of the month and do that for months and not hit the same gun dealer,” said.

Kristen Rand, director of the Violence Policy Centre, which has made a study of weapons trafficking, said she believes that gun manufacturers and sellers are complicit.

“The gun industry is in complete denial. The gun dealers say they’re not knowingly supplying traffickers. But they are knowingly selling the cartels’ weapons of choice. If you look at some of the dealers in the border areas, all they sell are the traffickers’ weapons of choice, and then they allegedly can’t figure out how these guns are ending up in the hands of the cartels when their whole product line is targeted at that market,” she said.

Carter’s Country was not the only gun shop involved. None has been prosecuted. The owners of those stores where weapons were purchased by smugglers decline to talk to reporters because of continuing litigation.

But Jim Pruett, a gun shop owner in Houston who sells the assault rifles and powerful weapons favoured by the cartels, said that dealers do not sell firearms knowing they are destined for the cartels and that it is typical to report suspicious buyers to the ATF.

“We look at them to see if they look like they’re criminal. Somewhat indigent, drugged,” he said. “But we can’t just refuse to sell someone a gun. All we can do is report them.”

Jim Lake, one of the judges who heard several of the illegal gun buying cases, is sceptical.

“I can’t believe these gun stores didn’t know something was wrong,” Lake said.

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Saudi Prince: Inevitable Syrian President Will Step Down November 16, 2011

Prince Turki al-Faisal  speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, Nov 15, 2011

A senior Saudi prince says it is inevitable that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will step down because he has not responded to calls to halt the violence against protesters.  Prince Turki al-Faisal made the comments during remarks in Washington.

Speaking to reporters, Prince Turki says the Syrian president has not responded to numerous efforts to end the deadly crackdown by government security forces on his political opposition.

“With the growing popular opposition to him and the killing everyday I think it is inevitable that he will have to step down,” said Prince Turki.

Turki spoke a day after Jordan’s King Abdullah became the first Arab leader to publicly urge Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to leave office.

Turki, a former chief of the Saudi intelligence service, also said there is “ample and heinous evidence” that members of the Iranian government were involved in an assassination plot against the current Saudi ambassador to the U.S.  

“The web of connections that were uncovered between the would-be assassins, elements of the Iranian government, especially senior members of the Quds brigade and Mexican drug cartels, indicates the depths of depravity and unreason to which the Ahmadinejad regime has sunk,” he said.

U.S. officials have accused two suspects of conspiring to carry out a $1.5 million plot by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s elite Quds force to kill Saudi envoy Adel al-Jubeir by bombing a Washington restaurant.

Iran has denied involvement in the case.

Turki urged Iran to prosecute any of its citizens who played a role in the alleged plot.

“If there are any names mentioned of Iranian officials in that case accused of plotting against the Saudi ambassador then those officials should be brought to justice in Iran,” said Turki.

Turki, a former Saudi ambassador to the U.S., said he was speaking as a private citizen.   

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"Grenade-walking" part of "Gunwalker" scandal October 20, 2011

October 19, 2011

by legitgov


“Grenade-walking” part of “Gunwalker” scandal 14 Oct 2011 There’s a new twist in the government’s “gunwalking” scandal involving an even more dangerous weapon: grenades. CBS News said on “The Early Show” that the investigation into the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)’s so-called “Fast and Furious” operation branches out to a case involving grenades. Sources tell her a suspect was left to traffic and manufacture them for Mexican drug cartels. Police say Jean Baptiste Kingery, a U.S. citizen, was a veritable grenade machine. He’s accused of smuggling parts for as many as 2,000 grenades into Mexico for killer drug cartels — sometimes under the direct watch of U.S. law enforcement.

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The Iranian assassination plot’s blowback | PJ Crowley October 12, 2011

The alleged plot involving Iranian agents planning to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in Washington, DC, potentially killing scores of Americans at the same time, is on the face of it so fantastic that it begs a disclaimer. There may be more to this, or less to this, than meets the eye. At this point, we simply don’t know.

It is important to keep in mind that grandiose plots straight out of Hollywood – foreign governments, Mexican drug cartels and government informants – are typically higher on aspiration than actual capability. However, the alleged active involvement of the Quds Force, which is connected at the hip with the Iranian leadership, is – if true – a serious development. How high up the Iranian hierarchy is unknowable – not unlike Pakistan and its knowledge of the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden – but it is a safe assumption that there was at least some government complicity in the plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir. But why?

A rogue plot? Perhaps, but if successful, it would be a strike at a near enemy – and one of its best friends.

The Saudis (the near enemy) and Iranians are locked in a pitched contest for geopolitical primacy in the Gulf. Saudi concern about the rise of Iran and its nuclear program matches that of Israel.

Broader changes in the neighborhood have heightened the regional stakes. In Syria (the best friend), embattled leader Bashir al-Assad is an Iranian client. The emergence of a Sunni-led government in Syria would be the most significant development in this time of remarkable Arab transitions. The Saudis and Iranians have other political tugs of war underway in Bahrain, Yemen and Iraq.

Obviously, the second shoe would be embarrassment to the United States, which has an international responsibility under the Vienna Conventions to protect the diplomatic corps in Washington, not to mention a well-regarded and respected ambassador of a close friend.

It’s unclear how much Iran would stand to gain by sanctioning or supporting this plot. It is true that US-Saudi relations have some existing stresses – the Saudi monarchy believes that the Obama administration tossed another close friend, former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, over the side earlier this year. Perhaps the Iranians were thinking that additional sand in the gears of the US-Saudi friendship can’t hurt. Again, who knows?

If official Iranian sponsorship is proved, what should the United States and the international community do in response?

Iran long ago earned its membership on the US list of state sponsors of terror – it has used surrogates against targets in this hemisphere before. There remains no easy military action regarding the full range of concerns about Iran, from its support for terrorism to its pursuit of nuclear know-how.

Through effective action by both the Bush and Obama administrations, there have been multiple rounds of sanctions in recent years. As a result, countries and companies around the world have reduced levels of business dealings with Iran. For any multinational corporation, the reputational costs of doing business in Iran – or even doing business with someone else who does business with Iran – have grown.

There should be a new opportunity to sanction an expanded universe of individuals and entities, and perhaps broader categories of economic activity linked to the Iranian government and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. More can be done to isolate Iran, and further action by European and Asian countries will be essential.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that the plot will give the United States additional leverage in dealing with Iran. The real leverage may rest with Saudi Arabia, with a powerful commercial weapon it can use with an array of countries that have hedged their dealings with Iran in the past. For example, Saudi Arabia can have a blunt conversation with an emerging power like China, with which Saudi Arabia has growing commercial ties. China, as evidenced by its veto of a UN security council resolution last week condemning Syria for using extreme violence against its people, prefers not to mix international politics and business.

Call it Saudi Arabia’s “with us or against us” moment. Business as usual is no longer an acceptable answer.

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Iranians charged in US over assassination plot October 11, 2011

The US is facing a dangerous confrontation with Iran after the Obama administration Tuesday directly blamed factions inside of the Tehran government of an assassination and bombing plot in the American capital involving Mexican drug cartels.

The US attorney general, Eric Holder, at a press conference said the ‘murder for hire plot’ was aimed at assassinating the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

The FBI director, Robert Mueller, also at the press conference, said a restaurant in Washington was also be targeted.

Holder said Iran will be “held to account” over what he described as a flagarant abuse of international law, but did not elaborate on what action Washington was planning to take.

The Iranian government reacted by dismissing the claims, saying the US was expert at making false claims. “This is a fabrication,” a spokesman for the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said.

It is rare for the US to make such a sensational accusation about another country. It comes against a background of years of tension between the two over Iran’s alleged push for nuclear weapons.

An American-Iranian, Manssor Arbabsiar, is under arrest in New York, and his allleged co-conspirator, Gholam Shakuri, is said by the US to be in Iran. The US justice department claimed Arbabsiar was working under the direction of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, a key paramilitary organisation in the Iranian government, and that Shakuri is a member of the Quds Force, the IRG’s speical operations unit.

The two were arrested in a sting operation involving the FBI and the Druge Enforcement Agency.

The two have been charged in New York.

Arbabsiar, 56, and Shakuri, are charged with conspiracy to murder a foreign official; conspiracy to engage in foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire; conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction (explosives); and conspiracy to commit an act of international terrorism transcending national boundaries.

Arbabsiar is further charged with an additional count of foreign travel and use of interstate and foreign commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.

Arbabsiar was arrested on 29 September at New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport.

Arbabsiar allegedly met on a number of occasions in Mexico with a DEA confidential source who pretended to be part of a drugs cartel. He arranged for $100,000 to be wired into a bank account in the United States as a down payment to the DEA agent CS-1 for the anticipated killing of the Saudi ambassador, Adel Al-Jubeir.

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