Mexican authorities arrested a woman guarding an arsenal that included the first anti-aircraft machine gun seized in Mexico, police said on Tuesday, as the army announced the capture of an alleged top drug cartel lieutenant.
The arsenal belonged to a group linked to the powerful Beltran-Leyva drug cartel, federal police coordinator General Rodolfo Cruz said. It also included ammunition, five rifles, a grenade and part of a grenade launcher.
Mexican drug cartels, battling a fierce crackdown by soldiers and federal police, have increasingly gotten hold of higher-powered weapons, even military-grade arms such as grenades and machine guns.
That has left police — particularly state and municipal forces — grossly outgunned and many officers have quit following attacks.
Cruz said the confiscated 0.50-caliber, anti-aircraft machine gun can fire 800 rounds per minute and is capable of penetrating armor from more than 1,500m. Police on a routine patrol on Monday found the gun fitted atop an SUV at a house in northern Sonora State.
Authorities did not release any other details about the gun, including its make, where it was manufactured or where it was sold.
The arrested suspect, Anahi Beltran Cabrera, is apparently not related to the Beltran-Leyva clan, Cruz said.
The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has traced many guns seized at scenes of drug violence in Mexico to US commercial sources. But determining the source of military-grade weapons, such as grenades and fully automatic machine guns, is more complicated.
The ATF says the grenades are mostly smuggled in through Central America and have been traced back to the militaries of many countries, from South Korea to Spain and Israel. Some may be leftovers from the Central American civil wars.
Assailants have fired on government aircraft performing anti-drug missions in Mexico in the past, but apparently never with the caliber of weapon found on Monday.
In 2006, a helicopter on a federal drug-eradication mission crashed while trying to escape ground fire and a second helicopter was damaged by gunfire in the Pacific coast state of Guerrero.
Mexico is upgrading its northern and southern border checkpoints in an effort to detect and seize more guns and other contraband, installing equipment that will weigh and photograph each car and truck coming into the country.
US President Barack Obama has promised to do more to stop gun trafficking from the US to Mexico. He has pledged to dispatch nearly 500 more federal agents to the border, along with X-ray machines and drug-sniffing dogs.
Also on Tuesday, the Mexican army announced the capture of Ruben Granados Vargas, an alleged lieutenant for the Beltran-Leyva drug cartel in Guerrero State.
General Luis Arturo Oliver said soldiers caught Granados Vargas and two other suspects with four rifles and 1.2kg of opium on Monday.
Granados Vargas allegedly ran the cartel’s drug planting, harvesting and trafficking operations on the coast west of Acapulco.
He is implicated in a number of kidnappings and killings in the region, including attacks as part of a turf war with an alleged Sinaloa cartel rival that left 17 people dead last year, organized crime prosecutor Marisela Morales said.