A renegade band of Mexican military deserters, offering $50,000 bounties for
the assassination of U.S. law-enforcement officers, has expanded its base of operations
into the United States to protect loads of cocaine and marijuana being brought
into America by Mexican smugglers, authorities said.
The deserters, known as the "Zetas," trained in the United States as
an elite force of anti-drug commandos, but have since signed on as mercenaries
for Mexican narcotics traffickers and have recruited an army of followers, many
of whom are believed to be operating in Texas, Arizona, California and Florida.
Working mainly for the Gulf Cartel, one of Mexico's most dangerous drug-trafficking
organizations, as many as 200 Zeta members are thought to be involved, including
former Mexican federal, state and local police. They are suspected in more than
90 deaths of rival gang members and others, including police officers, in the
past two years in a violent drug war to control U.S. smuggling routes.
The organization's hub, law-enforcement authorities said, is Nuevo Laredo, a border
city of 300,000 across from Laredo, Texas. It is the most active port-of-entry
along the U.S.-Mexico border, with more than 6,000 trucks crossing daily into
Texas, carrying about 40 percent of Mexico's total exports....
Despite the presence of law enforcement, more than 100 killings have occurred
in the city since Jan. 1, including that of former Police Chief Alejandro Dominguez....
In March, the Justice Department said the Zetas were involved "in multiple
assaults and are believed to have hired criminal gangs" in the Dallas area
for contract killings....
The number of assaults on U.S. Border Patrol agents along the 260 miles of U.S.-Mexico
border in Arizona known as the Tucson sector has increased dramatically this year...
Since Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, there have been 196 assaults on Border
Patrol agents in the Tucson sector, including 24 shootings....
Many of the Zeta leaders belonged to an elite anti-drug paratroop and intelligence
battalion known as the Special Air Mobile Force Group, who deserted in 1991 and
aligned themselves with drug traffickers.