Mexican Navy, relying on US intelligence, finds large cache of explosives in capital

By Danica Coto, AP
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

US tip leads Mexican navy to explosives in capital

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s navy seized 45 pounds (20 kilograms) of powerful explosives Wednesday in a bohemian residential neighborhood in the capital after exchanging information with U.S. authorities.

Four Mexicans suspected of links to organized crime were being questioned after a pre-dawn raid on a hostel in Mexico City’s Roma neighborhood, the navy said in a statement.

Officials said the explosives are the type used in demolition that can be applied directly to structures and have enough force to break apart metal.

Investigators declined to say whether the explosives are linked to drug traffickers, but federal authorities have said they recently intercepted communications that reveal cartel gunmen are seeking explosives for attacks, possibly on buildings or along roads.

The discovery of the explosives suggests that cartel violence could be inching closer to Mexico City, which has avoided most of the drug-related violence that has claimed nearly 23,000 lives since President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against traffickers in late 2006.

The hostel is several blocks away from city police headquarters, target of a failed 2008 plot to bomb a Mexico City police commander that was traced to Sinaloa state, apparently in retribution for a series of weapons seizures and arrests. A person carrying the bomb died in the attack.

A high-ranking marine at the scene Wednesday said that a man from the neighboring state of Hidalgo rented a room at the hostel and left the explosives, but that there was no evidence about their intended use. He declined to speak for attribution because of the ongoing investigation.

The explosives were found near the back of a three-story hostel that charges about $44 a week for individual rooms.

A queen-sized bed barely fit inside the room where marines found an orange duffel with a bottle of nitroglycerin inside. Another bag contained a small barrel with jumper cables on top, while a shelf held four plastic bottles with liquid, a small kitchen scale, several latex gloves in a plastic bag, two walkie-talkies and a phone.

Neighbors described how children at the hostel cried when armed marines tried to break down doors as they showed them a picture of a young man on a cell phone and asked if they recognized him.

Josefina Trejo began to cry as she described the scene.

“They forced us into the hallways regardless of how we were dressed,” she said. “I was so scared.”

Gilberto Bernal, a security guard who works near the hostel, said the block is relatively calm, except for Friday nights, when people flock to a disco across the street.

It is unclear which U.S. agency the Mexican Navy was working with. Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cindy Espinosa said she could not release further information.

Late Wednesday, the military announced the capture of the Zetas drug gang’s purported regional leader for the northern city of Monterrey.

The Ministry of Defense said in a statement that Hector Raul Luna Luna was responsible for assaults on Mexican soldiers and a 2008 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey, in which a grenade was thrown at the building but failed to explode. Nobody was hurt in the attack.

At that time the Zetas were reportedly aligned with the Gulf cartel, which was blamed for the attack. More recently, authorities say, there has been a split between the two groups.

In the state of Colima, meanwhile, eight drug traffickers with ties to the Beltran Leyva cartel were killed after attacking marines.

Five marines were injured, with one in critical condition, the navy said in a statement. Several grenades and high-powered weapons were confiscated.

And in Mexicali, across the border from Calexico, California, customs agents seized more than $2.5 million of U.S. currency hidden in suitcases inside a truck.

The federal Tax Administration Service said in a statement that the driver was detained. It said the truck was stopped on the Mexican side of the border, but not which way the vehicle was crossing.

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