Monday, December 14, 2009

war without borders


NYTimes | The illegal drug market has never been so unsettled, drug enforcement experts say, with small elite killing squads like the one Mr. Rojas-López was running — Mr. Slotter identified three in San Diego alone — operating on both sides of the border. For three years, Mr. Rojas-López’s rogue squad, a mix of United States citizens and Mexicans, used houses in tract developments as roving bases, hunting cartel members and imprisoning their prey along bland residential streets. They secured ransoms worth millions. Payment, however, did not guarantee that the victims survived.

At stake were billions of dollars in profits from tons of smuggled marijuana, and other drugs, and the precious control of Mexican border cities like Ciudad Juárez; Nogales; and Tijuana. Those cities are thoroughfares to the world’s most lucrative drug market: the United States.

The authorities in Kansas City, Mo., and Miami are also investigating the Mr. Rojas-López’s squad for drug trafficking and killings in their cities.

Mr. Rojas-López and eight other members of the squad, called Los Palillos, are now on trial in San Diego, charged with kidnapping 13 men and killing 9 from 2004 to 2007. Seven other co-defendants are fugitives. Since the investigation began, three more fugitive squad members have been killed.

This account of Los Palillos in Tijuana and San Diego, based on more than 6,000 pages of court documents, testimony from 175 witnesses and co-defendants, and interviews with law enforcement officials, offers a window into how Mexico’s drug wars are playing out on American soil.