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US strikes at Mexican cartel's drug-and-gun trade

A violent Mexican cartel, La Familia, is target of US raids. More than 300 arrested.

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"They believe they are doing God's work, and pass out Bibles and money to the poor," the DEA report says. Local schools and officials also benefit, the report says.

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But if law enforcement gets too close, La Familia reacts with extreme violence. When Mexican authorities arrested several key members of La Familia in June and July, the organization retaliated by kidnapping, torturing, and murdering 12 Mexican police officers.

In response, Mexico sent 5,500 soldiers to Michoacan.

"We are fighting an organization whose brutal violence is driven by so-called divine justice," said Michele Leonhart, acting DEA administrator. "La Familia's narco-banner declared that they don't kill for money and they don't kill innocent people. However, their delivery of that message was accompanied by five severed heads rolled onto a dance floor in Uruapan, Mexico," Ms. Leonhart said.

Officials said La Familia had become a major supplier of methamphetamine in the US. The group reportedly refuses to sell the drug in Mexico and instead ships it to the US for sale. The cartel uses a portion of its drug proceeds to purchase high-powered military-style weapons in the US, which are then smuggled back into Mexico for use to protect its drug and other criminal operations, officials said.

Attorney General Holder said the US was working closely with Mexican authorities to arrest and prosecute the drug cartel leaders. "They are doing, I think, the best they can," Holder said of his Mexican counterparts.

He said the US would pursue the same strategy it used against organized crime. "What we learned in our fight against the Mafia is that you cut off the heads of these snakes," Holder said. "We want to bring those people north, if we can."

The arrests announced Thursday were part of a 44-month operation called Project Coronado. So far the effort has resulted in the arrests of 1,186 individuals and the seizure of $33 million in drug cash, nearly 2,000 kilograms of cocaine, 2,730 pounds of methamphetamine, 29 pounds of heroin, 16,390 pounds of marijuana, and 389 weapons.

The effort is a joint operation of the DEA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Internal Revenue Service, US Customs, US Marshals Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

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