More than 200 federal, state and local law enforcement officers swept through El Paso on Thursday, picking up suspected members of the Barrio Azteca gang in an effort to find new leads into the killings of three people with ties to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez last weekend.
"The El Paso law enforcement community has come together today to locate Barrio Azteca members as part of a major intelligence collection effort in an attempt to generate leads into Saturday's Juarez murders," FBI Special Agent Andrea Simmons said.
Investigators also are seeking information that could help them find the leader of the gang's Juarez operations, Eduardo "Tablas" Ravelo, who was named to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list last year.
Any gang members with outstanding warrants would be arrested, but the goal of the all-day sweep dubbed "Operation Knock Down" is intelligence-gathering, Simmons said.
Earlier this week, Mexican authorities said U.S. intelligence , which operates on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border and does work for the Juarez drug cartel.
Consulate employee Lesley A. Enriquez and her husband, Arthur H. Redelfs, when gunmen opened fire on their sport utility vehicle after they left a birthday party.
Jorge Alberto Salcido, the husband of a Mexican employee of the consulate, also was killed by gunmen after leaving the same event in a separate vehicle.
Enrique Torres, a spokesman for Chihuahua state police, said Mexican authorities were making significant progress in the investigation. But Torres said investigators were not pursuing a theory reported by Mexican media, that Redelfs' work as a jail guard in El Paso could have brought him onto the Aztecas' radar.
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Barrio Azteca started as a Texas prison gang. It was not until the late 1990s that U.S. authorities realized it had a growing presence in Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso. On the Mexican side, the gang is known simply as the Aztecas, but it is the same organization, according to the FBI.
The gang is distinguished by tattooed images of the Aztec calendar and other pre-Hispanic images on their chests and arms.
Police say the Aztecas work for or are allied with the La Linea enforcement gang, which in turn works for the Juarez drug cartel led by the Carrillo Fuentes clan.
FBI agent Samantha Mikeska, who has been investigating the Barrio Azteca for more than eight years from the bureau's El Paso office, said earlier this month that four of the gang's five capos are in prison. The exception is Ravelo.
Ravelo is suspected of running the Aztecas operations in Juarez and maintaining contact with top-level members of the Juarez cartel, Mikeska said.
The gang was widely believed to be in disarray in El Paso following an extensive racketeering case in which a federal jury convicted six of its leaders and associates in December 2008.
"The RICO (Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act) really slammed them," Mikeska said. "They don't trust each other."
The gang provided the Juarez cartel with street enforcers to carry out hits and kidnappings on both sides of the border. In exchange, Barrio Azteca got drugs from the cartel at wholesale prices and handled street-level drug sales, Mikeska said.