US unearths sophisticated border drug tunnels

A law enforcement officer enters a drug tunnel found in a warehouse in Otay Mesa, California on April 3, 2014, in this handout photo released to Reuters on April 4, 2014. US investigators said on Friday they have uncovered two sophisticated drug
A law enforcement officer enters a drug tunnel found in a warehouse in Otay Mesa, California on April 3, 2014, in this handout photo released to Reuters on April 4, 2014. US investigators said on Friday they have uncovered two sophisticated drug tunnels under the border with Mexico and arrested a 73-year-old woman in connection with one of them. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES (AFP) - US investigators said on Friday they have uncovered two sophisticated drug tunnels under the border with Mexico and arrested a 73-year-old woman in connection with one of them.

The tunnels, which are up to 650 metres long and one of which had an electric rail system and ventilation equipment, are the sixth and seventh underground passages found near San Diego in the last four years.

The tunnels are used by organized crime groups to traffick drugs and people into the United States.

"Here we are again, foiling cartel plans to sneak millions of dollars of illegal drugs through secret passageways that cost millions of dollars to build," said US Attorney Laura Duffy.

"Going underground is not a good business plan. We have promised to locate these super tunnels and keep powerful drug cartels from taking their business underground and out of sight, and once again, we have delivered on that promise." The first tunnel to be found, about 550 meters long between the US side and a warehouse over the border in Mexico, was discovered Tuesday after a five-month investigation, said the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

A local woman was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly running the tunnel, which is accessed via a 70-foot (21-metre) shaft from a warehouse filled with children's toys and televisions. The end of the tunnel was topped with a cement cover to hide it.

On Thursday investigators uncovered a second, more sophisticated tunnel that was 650 metres long and "equipped with a multi-tiered electric rail system and an array of ventilation equipment." The tunnels were found by members of the San Diego Tunnel Task Force, in collaboration with their counterparts on the Mexican side of the border.

Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) special agent William Sherman said: "Once again, the Tunnel Task Force has eliminated a multi-million-dollar drug-smuggling venture and have reduced it to nothing more than a colossal waste of money on the part of the drug cartels."

"Our goal is to not only shut these tunnels down before they become operational, but to ensure that the cartels backing these elaborate smuggling operations are investigated and prosecuted," he added.

Over 77,000 people have died in drug-linked violence in Mexico since 2006, when troops were deployed to crack down on the powerful drug cartels.

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