US & Canada

Arizona busts Mexico gun-running network

Assault rifles on sale in a shop in Houston, Texas
Image caption Mexico has far stricter gun laws than the US

The authorities in US state of Arizona say they have broken up a gun-running network that was smuggling weapons to Mexican drugs gangs.

At least 17 people have been arrested in and around the city of Phoenix.

The suspects are accused of conspiring to buy firearms, including assault rifles, for Mexico's Sinaloa cartel.

The US is under pressure to curb the flow of guns into Mexico, where more than 15,000 people were killed in drug-related violence last year

A federal grand jury indictment unsealed on Tuesday alleged the suspects had conspired to buy guns and illegally export them to Mexico for use by drug cartels.

They are accused of acting as "straw purchasers" by claiming the weapons they bought from licensed Arizona gun shops were for their own use, when in fact they were destined for the Sinaloa cartel, the prosecutor's office said.

"The massive size of this operation sadly exemplifies the magnitude of the problem - Mexican drug lords go shopping for weapons of war in Arizona," the statement added.

The guns included AK-47 assault rifles, a weapon of choice for drug cartel gunmen.

All of those indicted are US citizens or legal residents.

The indictment came a day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited to Mexico to reiterate US support for President Felipe Calderon's fight against the cartels.

Mexico has long been pressing the US to do more to stop the flow of guns across the border.

Since President Calderon took office in late 2006, more than 34,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico, the government says.

In the same period, Mexico's police and army have seized more 93,000 guns from alleged drug traffickers. Many of the weapons the authorities are able to trace originate in the US.

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