MEXICAN ASSASSINS A GROWING THREAT FOR NORTH TEXAS
DALLAS - At least three drug-related slayings in North Texas are being blamed on a team of rogue Mexican commandos accused of orchestrating dozens of murders along the U.S.-Mexico border, raising fears that the drug war is moving north.
Dallas and federal officials say eight to 10 Zetas - former members of the Mexican army who defected to Mexico's Gulf drug cartel in the late 1990s - have been operating in North Texas since 2003, The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday.
The Zetas are accused of fatally shooting 26-year-old Christian Alejandro Meza in December. Authorities also believe they were involved in the deaths of Mathew Frank Geisler and Brandon Gallegos, both 19 and from Laredo, whose bodies were found in a burning sport utility vehicle in September.
Both had been shot.
"We're seeing an alarming number of incidents involving the same type of violence that's become all too common in Mexico, right here in Dallas," a former Dallas narcotics officer told the newspaper on condition of anonymity. "We're seeing execution-style murders, burned bodies and outright mayhem.
"It's like the battles being waged in Mexico for turf have reached Dallas."
Johnny Santana, a criminal investigator for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said law enforcement officials consider the Zetas a growing threat to U.S. cities. He said the department is investigating several cases with suspected ties to the group.
"We still don't have those links yet, but the telltale signs are there, and they point to the Zetas," Santana said.
The Zetas, who are accused of carrying out killings and acting as drug couriers for the cartel, are regarded by U.S. law enforcement officials as expert assassins who are especially worrisome because of their elite military training.
Their presence in Texas represents a sharp departure from standard practice for Mexican cartels, which have kept a low profile on American soil. The Zetas also are extending their reach into Houston and San Antonio, blending into burgeoning Mexican immigrant communities, state and federal officials said.
Law enforcement officials say North Texas has become an important hub of drug activity, with an estimated $10 million in drug transactions taking place every day. The officials say easy access to the area via Interstate 35, the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport and many other smaller airports is to blame.
Mexican authorities have downplayed the threat posed by the Zetas, saying a major government crackdown has left them leaderless and on the run.
Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, Mexico's deputy attorney general for organized crime, said many of the crimes attributed to the Zetas probably have been committed by outsiders emulating their tactics.