WASHINGTON – U.S. authorities launched a nationwide sweep of drug trafficking suspects on Thursday, declaring the crackdown a retaliatory strike against the U.S. operations of Mexican drug cartels after the killing of a U.S. agent in Mexico last week.
More than 500 suspects were arrested across the U.S. during coordinated raids by federal, state and local police that began Wednesday and continued Thursday. The sweep was expected to continue through today.
Mexican drug cartels have distribution channels in every major city in the U.S., said Derek Maltz, special agent in charge of special operations for the Drug Enforcement Agency.
The push came after Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer Jamie Zapata was killed and another officer wounded Feb. 15 when a member of the Zetas drug cartel opened fire on the agents’ black Chevy Suburban on a highway north of Mexico City.
Authorities said the sweeps were a direct response to the killing of Zapata, who was the highest-profile U.S. law enforcement officer killed in Mexico since DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena was kidnapped and tortured by drug gangs in 1985.
“If you attack a U.S. law enforcement officer, we are not going to back down,” Maltz said.
On Wednesday, the Mexican army announced it had arrested the main suspect in Zapata’s shooting. Mexican authorities are leading the investigation with assistance from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.