REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Mexican authorities have arrested a reputed enforcer for the country's most powerful drug cartel -- a man also alleged to have amassed weapons from the U.S. government's failed Fast and Furious gun-smuggling operation (link, in Spanish, includes video).
Jose Antonio Torres Marrufo, 33, is also wanted by U.S. officials on drug-trafficking charges in El Paso. Mexican and U.S. authorities say he served as a top lieutenant to Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel and was in charge of operations in the border state of Chihuahua (link in Spanish).
It was there, in the violent city of Ciudad Juarez, that a raid by Mexican police in April 2011 turned up high-powered assault guns purchased illegally through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives "Fast and Furious" program. As the Washington Bureau's Richard A. Serrano reported last fall, the discovery confirmed that Fast and Furious weapons were reaching the ruthless Sinaloa organization and that the geographic spread of the "walked" guns was wider than originally thought.
Mexican federal police said they tracked Torres Marrufo to a recently acquired home in Leon, in central Mexico, and captured him and a bodyguard over the weekend. In a statement, which did not mention the Fast and Furious connection, police said Torres was wanted in connection with numerous crimes including murder, extortion, kidnapping and the sale and distribution of drugs. The statement did not indicate whether Torres resisted arrest.
He was also accused of masterminding the September 2009 massacre of 18 people at a drug rehabilitation clinic in Ciudad Juarez.
Police said Torres confessed to having been recruited by the Sinaloa Cartel in 2002 and having taken over armed operations for the organization in Chihuahua during the last two to three years, when a bloody fight between gangs associated with Sinaloa and the long-dominant Juarez cartel have left scores of people dead.
Captured along with Torres Marrufo were two assault rifles and two automatic pistols, along with fake press ID badges, which Ramon Pequeno, head of the police anti-drug division, said the gangsters apparently used to move around more freely. Torres was presented to journalists over the weekend; standing handcuffed between masked, heavily armed federal agents, he wore blue jeans and a burgundy T-shirted emblazoned with the word, "Armani."
-- Tracy Wilkinson
Photo: This arsenal uncovered by police in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, in April 2011 contained guns traced to the failed Fast and Furious operation. Credit: Associated Press.