Eight arrests have been made in San Diego County as part of a massive nationwide sweep of suspected Mexican drug cartel members in response to the killing of a U.S. agent in Mexico last week.
“There are ongoing operations being conducted through today here in San Diego in direct response to the murder of ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata,” said Public Information Officer Amy L. Roderick.
Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (ICE) agents also seized three assault rifles, one shotgun, six handguns, marijuana and about $40,000.00 in US Currency.
“While we have no evidence to connect any person arrested to the heinous murder of ICE Agent Jaime Zapata, we will be questioning everyone that we come in contact with during the length of this operation in an attempt to develop any intelligence that could assist in the murder investigation,” said Officer Roderick.
Zapata was killed and fellow ICE agent Victor Avila was wounded in Mexico on Feb. 15 when the Chevy Suburban they were in was run off the road by at least two vehicles loaded with armed men.
"We are taking a stand and we are sending a message back to the cartels that we will not tolerate the murder of a U.S. agent, or any U.S. official," said Carl Pike, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's special operations division.
Authorities have said the agents, who were driving in a fortified sport utility vehicle with diplomatic license plates, identified themselves as U.S. diplomats in the moments before the shooting.
"This is personal," said Louie Garcia, deputy special agent in charge for Immigration and Customs Enforcement's special operations unit. "We lost an agent, we lost a good agent. And we have to respond."
Mexican authorities have arrested one person in connection with the brazen attack, which is believed to be the work of members of Mexico's Zetas gang. Former Mexican special forces soldiers are among its members.
"We are basically going out to disrupt narcotics distribution here in the United States no matter what cartel their allegiance is to," Pike said. "It would be futile to send a message back to one cartel when they all are just as guilty."
Pike said that while the sweeps are a direct response to Zapata's killing, the majority of suspects were already targets of other investigations.
"People actually sacrificed a great deal of work" for these sweeps, Pike said. "For the lost agent's memory it's important, but we're also in a bully situation. If we don't push back, some other 18-year-old cartel member is going to think, 'They didn't do anything, so all U.S. citizens are fair game."'