March 1 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. arrested 678 gang members and associates, including 421 foreign nationals, tied to foreign drug traffickers in the largest operation of its kind, a federal immigration official said.
Federal and local law enforcement authorities in 168 U.S. cities rounded up people from 13 gangs linked to Mexican drug organizations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton told reporters in Washington today. The crackdown, called Project Southern Tempest, began in December and ended in February, he said.
“The gang members we arrested in this latest operation are not people we want walking the streets,” Morton said.
In addition to the 678 gang members apprehended, 164 people were arrested for criminal and administrative immigration violations, Morton said. Including Project Southern Tempest, the U.S. has arrested 20,000 gang members since an effort to capture those with connections to international criminal organizations began in 2005, Morton said.
Separately, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents arrested three men on federal firearms charges, linking one to a weapon used in the assault that killed ICE Special Agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico on Feb. 15, U.S. Attorney James Jacks of the Northern District of Texas said today.
One of the men, Otilio Osorio, 22, bought the firearm used in the killing, Jacks said in a statement. The other men arrested were Otilio’s brother, Ranferi Osorio, 27, and Kelvin Leon Morrison, 25.
On Feb. 24, Drug Enforcement Administration officials said they arrested 100 people and seized more than $4 million in a nationwide sweep against drug cartels. That initiative was sparked in part by Zapata’s death.
Mexican authorities captured suspects in Zapata’s murder who they said were linked to the Zetas drug cartel.
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