31 January 2006
Suspect Arrested in Probe of California-Mexico Drug Tunnel
Illegal tunnel believed to be longest ever dug between United States and Mexico
By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- A Mexican national has been arrested in connection with an ongoing investigation into what is believed to be the longest cross-border tunnel ever discovered linking the United States and Mexico, announced the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.
In a January 30 statement, ICE said its agents had taken the suspect into custody and would charge him with conspiracy to import a controlled substance. The allegations stem from the man's ties to a warehouse in the community of Otay Mesa, California, which concealed the U.S. access point to the tunnel. (See related article.)
The suspect's name was not released, pending his appearance January 31 in U.S. District Court in nearby San Diego, said ICE, which is the investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
The arrest came less than 24 hours after ICE issued an alert urging individuals who had been in the tunnel or were responsible for its design or construction to come forward with information. Leads in the case had indicated that those individuals might be in imminent danger, ICE said, also pledging that it "would do everything in its power" to ensure their safety.
The ongoing investigation is being carried out by a "Tunnel Task Force" composed of ICE, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.
After receiving a lead from U.S. investigators, Mexican police obtained a warrant January 29 to search a warehouse in the Mexican city of Tijuana thought to conceal the tunnel's other entrance. Mexican police recovered more than 2 tons of marijuana at the warehouse, stacked in bales.
ICE said the discovery of the drug tunnel results from a long-term investigation by the Tunnel Task Force. The task force is using an array of high-tech equipment and intelligence to pinpoint the location of underground passageways along the California-Mexico border. Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States, U.S. authorities have discovered more than 20 cross-border tunnels in California and Arizona.
Miguel Unzueta, special agent-in-charge for ICE investigations in San Diego, said the probe of the Otay Mesa-Tijuana drug tunnel is "progressing very quickly," adding, "The Task Force is working tirelessly to bring those responsible for this audacious crime to justice."
For information on U.S. policies, see Mexico.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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