Border grenade attacksPosted: Updated:
PHOENIX - Grenades used in three recent attacks in northern Mexico and South Texas originated from the same stash, say U.S. investigators who suspect the paramilitary group known as the Zetas is behind the assaults.
Investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, or ATF, here in Phoenix say the they have evidence linking grenades used in last October's attack on the U.S. Consulate in the northern city Monterrey, a January attack on a Mexican television station, also in Monterrey, and a bar in South Texas where three off duty policeman were customers. No serious injuries were reported in any of the cases, but investigators say the "lot" numbers recovered at the crime scene confirmed that the grenades came from the same source.
"When you see grenades in Mexico and then a grenade in the U.S., it tells you the violent criminals do not respect the U.S. Mexico border," explained William Newell, the ATF Special Agent-in-Charge in Phoenix. "Now that we're seeing a growing influence of Mexican drug cartels in small towns in America we have to realize they're here, and how much further we let that violence spread is up to us."
According to an unclassified report that ATF sent to law enforcement agencies last week, the grenades are "linked to a major recovery of firearms and grenades in a Mexican warehouse with suspected ties to a drug cartel," the report states. Investigators suspect attacks are believed to be the Zetas, who have terrorized the border area for years and whose reach extends well into U.S. cities, according to U.S. investigators. In this decade the Zetas have grown from regional armed enforcers of the Gulf cartel into a formidable and powerful foe of the Mexican government which has declared war on them and other drug cartels who now control parts of Mexican territory.
The Zetas' influence runs deep across Mexico. This week, a member of the Zetas organization was arrested in Cancun and held in the killing of an army general. The suspect belonged to a cell that was allegedly assigned to assassinate other military members, according to a statement from Mexico's attorney general office.
ATF officials traced the grenades to a warehouse in Monterrey. The explosives were manufactured in South Korea. Investigators believe the cartels are buying their grenades on the black market in Central America, from explosives left over from past civil wars.
In last year's attack on the U.S. Consulate, gunmen rammed their vehicle into the consulate's front gates. They fired automatic rifles and tossed a grenade that failed to explode.
In the TV station attack, masked gunmen opened fire and lobbed the grenade at the station's building during a nightly newscast, leaving behind a message warning the station not to focus solely on drug traffickers but also corrupt politicians who also linked to drug cartels. Bewildered anchors asked for police help on the air.
On January 31st an attacker tossed a live grenade on a pool table inside the Booty Lounge in Pharr. The grenade did not detonate because the attacker failed to pull a second safety pin. One of the three off duty police officers at the bar, grabbed the grenade and threw it outside.
Investigators warn the Texas grenade incident likely won't be the last.
"The violence is here," said Jim Needles, the assistant special-agent-in-charge of the ATF's office in Phoenix. "The violence is in the U.S. We hear about the violence in Mexico It's not just an issue for the Mexican authorities. It's also an issue for us here in the United States."