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Probe by ICE-led binational task force leads to Arizona weapons seizures

Arms seized in Tucson include a .50-caliber sniper rifle

TUCSON, Ariz. - A multi-agency task force led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) seized 10 weapons here over the weekend, including a Serbu .50 caliber sniper rifle, as part of Operation "Armas Cruzadas," an ongoing ICE initiative targeting cross-border weapons trafficking.

The sniper rifle was seized by ICE agents during a traffic stop Saturday in East Tucson. Intelligence gathered during the ongoing investigation indicates the weapon was going to be smuggled into Mexico.

This weekend's weapons seizures stem from a probe by the Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) to identify, investigate, and prosecute gang members, weapon smugglers, aliens, and others illegally in possession of firearms. The BEST is made up of 12 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, as well as a representative from Mexico's federal police, the Secretaria de Seguridad Publica.

In addition to the sniper rifle, investigators seized a Norinko SKS assault rifle, eight semi-automatic handguns, one silencer, 3,500 rounds of ammunition, and various weapons components. As part of the enforcement action, investigators also arrested five individuals. They are expected to face a variety of federal and state charges.

"Stopping the illegal flow of weapons into Mexico is a key focus of the BEST team," said Richard Crocker, deputy special agent in charge of the ICE office of investigations in Tucson. "Many of these seized weapons would have been used by organized criminal gangs against our law enforcement partners in Mexico. By stopping them here, we are preventing these tragedies from occurring there."

The BEST is the only federal law enforcement task force in Arizona that includes a representative from a Mexican law enforcement agency. The intelligence gathered in this weekend's operation will be shared with Mexican authorities to assist them in identifying gun smuggling organizations operating south of the border.

"Especially for our local partners, keeping weapons out of the hands of felons and illegal aliens is an important component in improving the safety of local communities," said Crocker.

The Tucson BEST team was created in March 2006 to pool the resources of a variety of law enforcement agencies and employ a unified approach to investigating border-related crime in the Tucson area. Among the task force members are: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol and CBP's Office of Field Operations; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Arizona Department of Public Safety; the Pima County Sheriff's Office; and the Arizona National Guard.

Since its inception, the Tucson BEST has seized more than $3.5 million, approximately 60,000 pounds of marijuana, and more than 200 assault-style weapons. The team has also arrested more than 120 individuals on major criminal charges and broken up numerous criminal organizations operating in the Tucson area.

Editor's note: ICE still photos of the sniper rifle and some of the other seized weapons are available. To obtain copies, contact ICE public affairs at (949) 360-3096.