MEXICO CITY – Police have arrested a U.S. man for smuggling American grenade parts into Mexico for use by the Sinaloa cartel, and a U.S. official said the case has now been included in investigations into flawed law enforcement operations aimed at gun-trafficking networks on the Mexican border.
The arrest of a man who Mexican police identified as Jean Baptiste Kingery has provided details on a network that allegedly supplied hundreds of hand grenades to Mexico's powerful Sinaloa cartel. Such grenades have been blamed in the injuries or deaths of dozens of civilians in Mexico, where grenades have been tossed into public squares, streets, bars and nightclubs.
A U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives operation, known as Fast and Furious, was designed to track small-time gun buyers at several Phoenix-area gun shops up the chain to make cases against major weapons traffickers. But a congressional investigation says ATF agents of lost track of about 1,400 of the more than 2,000 guns whose purchase they had watched.
In Washington D.C., Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the department's inspector general has expanded that investigation to include the Kingery case.
"The department is aware of concerns raised" about the Kingery case "and has been looking into it," said Schmaler. "We have notified Congress about this operation and offered to brief them on it."
Schmaler did not say specifically why the greande-smuggling case was being investigated, but the Wall Street Journal reported that Kingery had been detained in Arizona in June 2010 and then released, purportedly because officials wanted to use him as an informant or in a sting operation.
The ATF refused to confirm that report. ATF spokesman Drew Wade said "we can't confirm or deny the existence of an ongoing criminal investigation."
Mexico's Attorney General's Office said Kingery had been the subject of "a bilateral investigation" between Mexico, the U.S. government and the ATF.
The office said Kingery, 40, allegedly bought weapons parts and grenade casings in U.S. stores and even over the Internet, and smuggled them into Mexico through the border city of Mexicali.
The office said Kingery was arrested late last week in the Pacific Coast city of Mazatlan, in Sinaloa state, in a raid on a house where five guns were found. He is being held under a form of house arrest.
Police also raided five other homes, and found what appeared to have been facilities for assembling grenades, including gunpowder and grenade triggers, pins and caps.
In April, two men were arrested with 192 grenade casings in Baja California, the state where Mexicali is located. They told police they were part of the grenade smuggling ring, and that led to the detention of another American man, who led police to Kingery, prosecutors said.
The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City would not confirm the man's name, hometown or nationality, citing privacy concerns.
Mexican drug cartels have frequently used hand grenades in battles with police and soldiers, and occasionally against civilians.
A cartel-related grenade attack in the western city of Morelia killed eight people during the 2008 independence celebrations, when suspects tossed grenades into the city's crowded main square.
On Aug. 14, gunmen tossed a grenade onto a busy tourist boulevard in the Gulf Coast city of Veracruz, killing a man and seriously wounding his wife and their two young children.