PHOENIX  -- The U.S. Justice Department denied a claim made to lawmakers that two guns sold in purchases sanctioned by federal firearms agents were later used in a shootout that left a Border Patrol agent dead near the Arizona-Mexico border.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Ronald Weich said in a letter obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press that the claim that firearms agents sanctioned or knowingly allowed the sale of assault weapons to straw buyers who then brought them to Mexico is false. Such a claim was made about guns used by bandits in the Dec. 14 fatal shooting of Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry.

"ATF makes every effort to interdict weapons that have been purchased illegally and prevent their transportation to Mexico," Weich said in a letter to U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa.
Grassley, who was examining the claim received by his fellow Senate Judiciary Committee members, had previously said that he received information that appeared to partially corroborate the claim.

Terry was waiting with other agents near the Arizona border city of Nogales when a shootout with bandits erupted. Terry, who was the only person killed in the attack, was part of an elite squad similar to a police SWAT team that was sent to the canyon 13 miles north of the border known for robberies, drug smuggling and violence. No other agents were injured.

Grassley had told the Justice Department in an earlier letter that a buyer purchased three assault rifles with cash more than a year ago in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale, and two of those guns were used in the shootout that took Terry's life. His letter didn't elaborate on the possible role of federal agents in the sale of the guns, and it couldn't be determined if the purchases were part of a sting operation.