Mexico City, Federal District, Mexico
Mexico's attorney general moved into a political hot seat by asking the U.S. government to extradite six American citizens suspected of smuggling guns during Operation Fast and Furious.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) "gun-walking" operation involved allowing about 2,000 guns purchased illegally at American gun shops to be smuggled across the border.
The sales in 2009 and 2010 included assault rifles.
Normally, the ATF or other law enforcement agencies would arrest the smugglers immediately. Instead, ATF agents planned to track the guns to their ultimate users among drug cartel leaders and assassins so they could be identified and arrested.
The operation backfired in some cases after the ATF lost track of hundreds of the guns. Some of them later were traced to murders, including the death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry last year.
Mexican Attorney General Marisela Morales wants to prosecute Americans who helped with the illegal sales and smuggling.
"In the matter of the Operation Fast and Furious, we're going to get to the bottom of it and we're going to punish, if it is true, those who have to answer for these events," Morales said.
She spoke during a hearing with Mexican congressmen who are members of the Commission on Justice, Public Safety and Civil Service.
Three accused Americans gun smugglers are being held in jail in Texas and another three in California.
Two Americans already are awaiting trial in Mexico on charges they attempted to smuggle .22-caliber rifles into Mexico. It has not been determined they were associated with a drug cartel.
Morales said Americans are free to purchase guns in the United States but Mexicans would not allow them into their country.
"Mexico is free to punish those who violate the law by smuggling weapons into its territory," she said.
She also said the six Americans she wants to extradite were unlikely to be the last U.S. suspects Mexico wants to prosecute.
In the future "we will manage to have more cases of this nature and surely there will be many extraditions we are going to be requesting from authorities in the United States," Morales said.
Morales' request to extradite Americans creates a difficult political situation for the U.S. Justice Department, which denies that its top officials knew about Operation Fast and Furious or authorized it.
Extraditing suspects would allow them to gather potentially embarrassing information against the U.S. government as they prepare their legal defenses.
During a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said Operation Fast and Furious was "flawed in its concept and flawed in its execution."
He acknowledged the smuggled guns are likely to be used at crime scenes in the future in both the United States and Mexico.
However, he said he was unaware of the operation in time to stop it.
Republicans who are calling on Holder to resign, such as Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa, (R-Calif.), said in a joint statement they had evidence the attorney general received at least five memos in mid-2010 describing the ATF gun-walking strategy.
Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) said in a statement that Congress "has been trying to work with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Department of Justice and other federal departments and agencies but we have been stonewalled. There must be accountability and responsibility within the federal government to make sure nothing like Operation Fast and Furious happens again. American taxpayers have a right to know what happened, who knew about it, and who is ultimately responsible for Operation Fast and Furious going so wrong."
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