The ultra-violent, U.S.-trained elite, Mexican paramilitary commandos known as the "Zetas," responsible for hundreds of murders along the border this year, have expanded their enforcement efforts on behalf of a drug cartel by setting up trafficking routes in six U.S. states.
A U.S. Justice Department memo says the U.S.-trained units have recently moved operations into Houston, San Antonio and the states of California, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida. They have been operating in Dallas for at least two years, according to the feds.
The original Zetas are former Mexican army commandos, some apparently trained in the U.S. by Army special forces to combat drug gangs. Members of a broader Zetas organization have worked for the Gulf cartel since 2001. They provide firepower, security and the force needed to oversee shipments of narcotics and smuggled aliens along the border and up Interstate 35, which runs through Texas and Oklahoma.
According to FBI officials, the Zetas are attempting to consolidate their grip on the smuggling route along I-35. Anyone caught not paying the 10 percent commission they charge on all cargo – drugs or humans – is killed, according to U.S. and Mexican law enforcement sources.
The Zetas have also brought their cold-blooded killing tactics to the U.S., say federal law enforcement authorities – murdering rival drug dealers and sometimes innocent bystanders.
"Texas law enforcement officials report that the Zetas have been active in the Dallas area since 2003," said the Justice Department intelligence bulletin circulated among U.S. law enforcement officials. "Eight to ten members of the Zetas have been involved in multiple assaults and are believed to have hired criminal gangs in the area ... for contract killings."
The feds say the group has begun establishing its own trafficking routes into the United States and will protect them at any cost.
"U.S. law enforcement have reported bounties offered by Los Zetas of between $30,000 and $50,000 for the killing of Border Patrol agents and other law enforcement officers," the bulletin said. "If a Zeta kills an American law enforcement officer and can successfully make it back to Mexico, his stature within the organization will be increased dramatically."
The Zetas take their name from a radio code once used by its members. While originally there were 68, the Zetas have trained a second generation of commandos – many of them sons and nephews of those trained by U.S. military forces to combat drug trafficking in Mexico. U.S. law enforcement officials say they now number more than 700. Their numbers also include some Mexican army deserters and former federal police officers....
At least 600 have been killed this year in a wave of violence waged by the Zetas gang, headed by reputed drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, said Mexico's Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca....
The U.S. government spent millions of dollars training Los Zetas to intercept drugs, some of them coming from Mexico's southern border, before they could reach the U.S. The U.S. government has also sent U.S. Border Patrol agents to Mexico's southern border with Guatemala to train law enforcement and military forces to intercept human smugglers destined to reach the U.S....