U.S. police arrested 17 people and broke up a gun running network that sought to funnel more than 700 firearms including high-powered Kalashnikov rifles to Mexico drug cartels, authorities said on Tuesday.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, said police arrested 17 suspects in a multi-agency operation across the Phoenix valley on Tuesday. Three other suspects remained at large.

The operation involving ATF, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service, as well as Phoenix police and Mexican authorities, dismantled a network allegedly buying weapons for Mexico’s powerful Sinaloa Cartel, investigators said.

“We strongly believe we took down the entire organization from top to bottom that operated out of the Phoenix area,” said William Newell, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Phoenix field division.

“The investigation is further proof of the relentless efforts by Mexican drug cartels, especially the Sinaloa cartel, to illegally acquire large quantities of firearms in Arizona and elsewhere for use in the ongoing Mexican drug war,” he added.

Arizona straddles a lucrative and heavily trafficked smuggling corridor. Organized criminal networks haul drugs and illegal immigrants north, and spirit guns and cash profits south to Mexico.

Source: Tim Gaynor for Reuters.

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