By Grace Wyler
Federal law enforcement agents in San Diego arrested 60 people in connection with an Iraqi criminal ring with ties to Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa drug cartel.
The gang is accused of selling drugs, machine guns and improvised bombs (IEDs) out of a social club for Iraqi immigrants in El Cajon, Calif., a city of more than 90,000 located near the Mexican border.
According to the federal indictment, unsealed yesterday, the six-month investigation led to seizures of 34 firearms, including machine guns and semi-automatic assault rifles, four IEDs, 3,500 pounds of marijuana, 18 pounds of meth, and other drugs. A DEA operative was also shown a hand grenade by one of the Iraqis, and was told more could be purchased from a source in the Mexican military.
Officials said Thursday that the investigation is ongoing.
Local police officials told Reuters that the Iraqi gang has deep ties to the Sinaloa Cartel, one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal organizations, as well as to the Mexican Mafia, a U.S. prison gang that conducts drug trafficking operations for Mexico’s organized crime syndicates.
At least some of those arrested are also associated with the Chaldean Organized Crime Syndicate, an Iraqi gang based in Detroit that traffics drugs from Phoenix and San Diego to Michigan. The Chaldean mafia, formed in the 1980s, is predominantly made up of ethnic Iraqi Christians.
The AP reports that many members of the Iraqi community reached the U.S. via Mexico, with the help of cartel migrant smugglers.
The sting is further indication of the vast reach of Mexico’s drug trafficking organizations. As the Mexican gangs deepen ties to other transnational criminal networks, the cartels — and the U.S. street gangs they are affiliated with — are gaining access to the militaristic tactics and weapons used by militants in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. The consequences are potentially disastrous for Mexican and U.S. officials as they continue to wage war against the cartels on both sides of the border.