Secretive U.S.-Mexico operation nets arrest of 24 suspected Sinaloa cartel members

A U.S. Border Patrol agent patrols the border separating Sonoyta, Mexico, right of fence, and Lukeville, Ariz., on May 24, 2006.

A U.S. Border Patrol agent patrols the border separating Sonoyta, Mexico, right of fence, and Lukeville, Ariz., on May 24, 2006.

(Matt York / Associated Press)

A highly secretive, daylong law enforcement operation around the Arizona border with Mexico resulted in the arrest of two dozen alleged high-level Mexican drug cartel members, according to a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman.

The sting known as Mexican Operation Diablo Express took place Friday as numerous law enforcement agencies converged on Lukeville, Ariz., which sits on the border with Mexico.

Homeland Security Investigations, a unit of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, helped Mexican authorities nab 24 alleged members of the Sinaloa cartel who were operating around Sonoyta, Mexico, and the U.S. border, spokeswoman Gillian M. Christensen said.

The Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, Customs and Border Protection and Arizona state and local agencies were on hand to assist.


“The targeted Sinaloa cell has been responsible for the importation of millions of pounds of illegal drugs, including marijuana, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, into the United States from Mexico during its existence. The organization is also responsible for the smuggling of millions of dollars in U.S. currency, along with weapons, into Mexico,” Christensen said in a statement.

The operation was conducted “with utmost secrecy” as numerous law enforcement officers worked in Lukeville and Sonoyta, bordering cities that are on the route to the Puerto Peñasco, the popular beach destination many Americans know as Rocky Point.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement helped Mexican federal police into the U.S. to keep them safe during the operation, Christensen said.

The sting also netted the seizure of several assault-type weapons and hundreds of pounds of drugs, she said.

“ICE applauds the Government of Mexico for their bold action in taking down this criminal organization and for their continued pressure on the Sinaloa Cartel throughout Mexico,” Christensen said in the statement.

The arrests are the latest blow to the Sinaloa cartel, one of Mexico’s biggest drug-trafficking organizations, after the arrest of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman on Jan. 8, six months after he tunneled out of a top-security Mexican prison for the second time.

The Mexican government said it is cooperating with an extradition request for Guzman from the U.S.

The 24 people arrested on Friday have not been identified. They are in the custody of Mexican authorities, and the U.S. will seek extradition.