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U.S.: Rifle found at El Chapo hideout tied to Fast and Furious

Alicia A. Caldwell Associated Press

WASHINGTON – One of the guns that Mexican officials say was found at the hideout of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera is associated with Fast and Furious, a failed “gun-walking” operation, according to the Justice Department.

The department said in a letter to members of Congress that a .50-caliber rifle that Mexican officials sent for tracing after Guzman’s arrest in January has since been connected to Fast and Furious.

U.S. officials say the weapon was one of 19 firearms that Mexican authorities said was recovered from the hideout and was the only one determined to be associated with the botched sting operation, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives permitted gun-runners to buy weapons in hopes of tracking them and disrupting gun smuggling rungs.

The rifle was bought in July 2010 in a straw purchase by someone not known to ATF at the time. The buyer was later identified and “became a subject” of the Fast and Furious investigation but was never indicted. The weapon is not known to be associated with any other crime, the Justice Department said.

A former U.S. official said four other firearms connected to Fast and Furious were found at a hideout in Culiacan, Mexico, where Guzman narrowly escaped capture in February 2014. He was captured about a week later in the seaside resort of Mazatlan.

The official was briefed on the case but not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

As of January, 885 firearms purchased by targets of Operation Fast and Furious had been recovered, according to the Justice Department. Several of those have been linked to violent crimes, including a 2010 firefight near the Mexican border during which Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed.

“ATF and the department deeply regret that firearms associated with Operation Fast and Furious have been used by criminals in the commission of violent crimes, particularly crimes resulting in the deaths of civilians and law enforcement officials,” Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik, head of the Justice Department’s legislative affairs office, wrote in a March 15 letter.

The letter was addressed to Sen. Charles Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who chairs the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. It follows a request for information on whether firearms tied to Fast and Furious had been found in Guzman’s hideout.

After escaping from a Mexican prison last year, Guzman was recaptured in January in the western state of Sinaloa after fleeing a safe house through a storm sewer. He remains in Mexican custody.

Mexican officials initially submitted eight rifles for tracing that they said were recovered from the home in Sinaloa where Guzman was captured. None of those weapons were found to be linked to Fast and Furious, the Justice Department said.

Later, Mexican law enforcement officials requested a trace on an additional 11 rifles they said had also been seized from the home, but unlike the other eight guns, had been sent to Mexico City prior to submission for tracing.

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