Elaborate drug tunnel uncovered in San Diego, 16 captured

By Elliot Spagat, Associated Press writer

8 tons of weed found in drug tunnel
OTAY MESA, Calif. - U.S. authorities say 12 tons of marijuana was seized and 22 people were arrested in connection with a cross-border tunnel to Mexico that runs the length of eight football fields.

The U.S. attorney's office in San Diego said Thursday that the passage connecting warehouses in Tijuana, Mexico, and San Diego was lit, ventilated and equipped with a rail system.

The passage was 9 feet deep and about 2,600 feet long -- about three-quarters of that distance in Tijuana and the rest in San Diego.

Six people were arrested in the U.S. and 16 in Mexico following raids on Wednesday. Two tons of marijuana were seized in the U.S. and 10 in Mexico.

U.S. authorities say smugglers moved the first load of drugs on Wednesday and that they are confident nothing got through undetected.

Federal authorities had a building blocked off with crime tape at 2587 Otay Center Dr. in Otay Mesa. On Thursday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers along with Homeland Security officials were on scene, but would not confirm if the tunnel ended at that building.

It was also unclear which drug trafficking organization began the engineering feat.

The region is largely controlled by Mexico's Sinaloa cartel, whose leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman escaped from a maximum-security prison in Mexico in July through an elaborate tunnel.

Earlier in the day, Mexican police said in a press release about the drug tunnel that 16 people were detained on suspicion of drug trafficking and had told authorities that they had ties to a criminal group that operates in the state of Jalisco -- an apparent reference to the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which controls that part of western Mexico.

The people detained were 21 to 50 and were caught off-guard when Mexican authorities arrived at a Tijuana warehouse with a search warrant, police said. No shots were fired.

The drugs were wrapped in 873 packages covered with plastic and tape, police said.

Dozens of tunnels have been found along the U.S.-Mexico border in recent years -- the most sophisticated equipped with hydraulic lifts and electric rail cars.

The San Diego-Tijuana region is popular because its clay-like soil is easy to dig with shovels and pneumatic tools, and both sides of the border have warehouses that provide cover for trucks and heavy equipment.

U.S. Homeland Security Investigations began investigating in May. This is the third drug tunnel discovered near the San Diego border since April.

On April 28, Border Patrol agents patrolling west of the San Ysidro Port of Entry
found a tunnel with lighting and a rail system that connected to a boarded up house in Tijuana.The tunnel went to a sinkhole close to the U.S. border fence.

On July 31, agents found a sophisticated mile-long tunnel with rails, lights and ventilation that had not been finished. It stopped in Tijuana, just shy of the U.S. border.

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