Huge drug-smuggling tunnel found under Mexico-US border
11,000kg of cannabis seized and 22 arrested in sting operations in both countries
Authorities seized 11,000kg of cannabis and arrested 22 people after discovering a huge cross-border tunnel between the US and Mexico, officials said.
The passage connecting warehouses in San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico, was about 730m long and 9m deep.
It was lit, ventilated and equipped with a rail system – hallmarks of the most sophisticated tunnels found along the border.
Near-simultaneous police stings on Wednesday resulted in six arrests in San Diego and 16 in Mexico. Authorities recovered 1,800kg of cannabis in the US and 9,000kg in Mexico.
US authorities said smugglers tried to move the first load of drugs through the tunnel on Wednesday but that nothing got through undetected.
The sting came after an undercover agent for US Homeland Security Investigations agreed to provide the drug smugglers with drivers and use of a warehouse in exchange for a $10,000 (€9,000) payment for each truckload of drugs moved, according to a probable cause statement.
The discovery demonstrates the enduring appeal of tunnels to smugglers, despite the significant time and money required to build one. Dozens of tunnels have been found along the US-Mexico border in recent years, some equipped with hydraulic lifts and electric rail cars.
Easy to dig
It was unclear which drug trafficking organisation orchestrated the latest passage but the region is largely controlled by Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, whose leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped from a maximum-security prison in Mexico in July through an elaborate tunnel.
Mexican federal police said in a news release that those arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking told authorities that they had ties to a criminal group that operates in the state of Jalisco – an apparent reference to the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which controls that part of western Mexico.
The Mexican suspects were caught off-guard when authorities arrived at the Tijuana warehouse with a search warrant, police said. No shots were fired.
The drugs found were wrapped in 873 packages covered with plastic and tape.
David Shaw, head of Homeland Security Investigations in San Diego, said traffic to and from the San Diego warehouse was unusually heavy before the sting. The agency began investigating in May, he said.
“It almost looked like they filled it with junk to look like they were busy,” Mr Shaw said.
Isaias Enriquez (53) and Isidro Silva (27), both of Tijuana, were charged with conspiracy in US federal court. Four others were to be charged in state court.