The weapons from a botched U.S. firearms investigation are cropping up in anti-cartel operations in Mexico, a Justice Department summary issued Tuesday confirmed.
According to a report compiled for two Republican congressional committee chairmen, a WASR-10 rifle purchased six years before in the U.S. as part of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives' (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious was one of three rifles used in a July 27 attack in the town of Valle de Zaragoza that left three Mexican police officers dead.
Another weapon tied to the operation was uncovered in the hideout where Sinaloa Cartel drug leader, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera, was arrested in January.
“[The ATF] and the [Justice] Department deeply regret that firearms associated with Operation Fast and Furious have been used by criminals in the commission of violent crimes, particularly crimes resulting the death of civilians and law enforcement officers," assistant attorney general Peter Kadzik said in a Tuesday letter to Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley of Iowa and House Oversight and Government Reform chairman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, according to USA Today.
The letter continued: “ATF accepts full responsibility for the flawed execution of Fast and Furious, and will continue to support Mexican law enforcement in efforts to recover and identify associated firearms."
The department confirmed to Congress that a .50-caliber rifle recovered after El Chapo’s arrest in Los Mochis, Mexico, has been traced back to Fast and Furious.
Officials say the weapon was one of 19 firearms recovered from the hideout and was the only one found to be connected. It was bought in 2010 by someone not known to ATF at the time.
Fast and Furious was a botched 2006-2011 operation in which the ATF allowed hundreds of guns to be sold to Mexican drug traffickers in the hope the weapons would lead them to cartel kingpins.
The guns, however, started to turn up at murder scenes along the Arizona-Mexico border, including at the 2010 killing of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.
The Justice Department summary comes only a few months after a third gun tied to Fast and Furious was used during a gunfight that took place between Mexican officials and suspected cartel gunmen at a seaside Mexican resort in Puerto Peñasco.
According to the Justice Department, 885 firearms purchased by targets of the ATF operation have been recovered as of January, with 415 being found in the U.S. and 470 that “appear to have been recovered in Mexico.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.