Several weapons that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) allegedly allowed to be purchased and moved by straw buyers in the so-called "Fast and Furious" case have reportedly ended up in Medellin, Colombia. The finding comes just days before the US Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General will issue a report on the case.
As Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reports, these weapons include at least 2 rifles and 14 Five-seven pistols. Some of these weapons were found in February, when Colombian police raided an encampment of the brother of Erick Vargas, alias "Sebastian," the former leader of the Medellin crime syndicate the Oficina de Envigado.
An ATF official in Colombia compared the serial numbers of the guns seized from the Oficina encampment and the weapons that the ATF lost track of during the "Fast and Furious" operation and found several matches, according to El Tiempo.
"Fast and Furious" was an attempt by the ATF to track gun smuggling operations in the Southwest US by allowing middlemen, or "straw buyers," to purchase weapons. Law enforcement would then continue to track the movements of the guns in the hopes that this would lead them to high-level gun and drug traffickers in Mexico. Instead, the ATF lost track of nearly 2,000 of those weapons.
Many of the lost firearms are believed to have been allowed to "walk" across the US-Mexico border and ended up in the hands of Mexican criminal groups, although some ATF agents dispute this account. In December 2010, one of these weapons was found at the scene of the death of Border Patrol Agent Bryan Terry, prompting a political scandal that eventually ended with US Attorney General Eric Holder being found in contempt for withholding documents related to the investigation. On September 7, Mexico police said they had arrested a suspect involved in the killing of Border Agent Bryan Terry.
According to El Tiempo, some of these "Fast and Furious" weapons ended up in the hands of the Sinaloa Cartel, who then sold them to the Oficina de Envigado in exchange for drug shipments. There could be as many as 200 "Fast and Furious" guns currently in Medellin, the newspaper reports.
InSight Crime Analysis
The discovery of "Fast and Furious" guns in Medellin is a testament to just how far and wide these US-sourced weapons may travel in the region's gun and drug trafficking networks. Medellin's gangs are also known to source some of their Five-seven "cop killer" pistols from a Miami-based gun store, as the newspaper El Colombiano reported earlier this year.
The appearance of the weapons also sheds light on some of the criminal alliances in the region. The Sinaloa Cartel and the Beltran Leyva Organization both obtain large numbers of weapons from the Southwest US. Their cocaine sources in Colombia, however, are harder to surmise, making the alleged discovery of the US-sourced guns in Medellin particularly interesting for crime watchers.
Finally, the finding will certainly give Obama foes more fodder for their efforts to shame the administration into getting rid of Attorney General Holder. Fast and the Furious turned into a major scandal for the Obama administration and led to several Congressional hearings and an investigation by the Justice Department, whose inspector general is expected to release its report on the ATF operation no later than September 11. These findings are to be followed by yet another Congressional hearing on "Fast and Furious" on September 19.
It is unlikely, however, that the report will recommend that further legal action be taken against Holder: according to CNN, the Fast and Furious report states that by and large, officials in Washington DC were not aware of the actions taken by the ATF team on the ground in Arizona.