Washington: US authorities charged 35 Mexican gang members with murder, drug smuggling and other crimes on Wednesday, including 10 accused in a deadly 2010 shooting at the US consulate in Ciudad Juarez.
An indictment unsealed in federal court in El Paso, Texas, detailed the charges against the so-called "Familia Azteca”, or Barrio Azteca, as law enforcement agents arrested 12 of those who were not already in custody in Texas and New Mexico.
El Paso is across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico`s crime capital.
Seven of those charged are in custody in Mexico, officials said. Three remain at large.
Ten of the accused are charged in the March 13 killing of Lesley Enriquez, an American working at the consulate, her American husband Arthur Redelfs and Jorge Alberto Salcido, the Mexican husband of another US consular employee, in ambushes minutes apart after they left a birthday party in Ciudad Juarez.
"The indictment unsealed today represents our continued action to ensure safety along our southwest border, to seek justice for victims of violent crime in this region and to weaken dangerous criminal organisations currently operating in Mexico and the United States," said Attorney General Eric Holder.
"These arrests and criminal charges will disrupt Barrio Azteca`s current operations, and they reaffirm that we will not tolerate acts of violence against those who serve and protect American citizens."
In addition to the consulate murders, the indictment lists a range of crimes including kidnapping, murder, money laundering and drug offenses dating back to 2003.
In August, gang members also allegedly kidnapped the wife and parents of a member they believed was cooperating with US law enforcement and also killed the member`s step-daughter.
"The indictment unsealed today offers a chilling picture of a highly organised, and extremely brutal gang," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.
"The victims -- like so many other victims of the Mexican drug wars -- were senselessly caught in the crosshairs of a violent criminal enterprise... But let there be no mistake: we will devote our might to bringing Barrio Azteca and other gangs to justice for their acts of violence and intimidation along our border."
Officials said Barrio Azteca began in the late 1980s as a violent prison gang in Texas and has expanded into a transnational criminal organisation. Based mainly in West Texas and Ciudad Juarez, the gang has a militaristic command structure and includes captains, lieutenants, sergeants and soldiers.
According to the 57-page indictment, the gang profits by importing heroin, cocaine and marijuana into the United States from Mexico and linked them to smuggling acts involving more than 17 pounds (eight kilograms) of heroin, 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of cocaine and nearly 300 pounds (136 kilograms) of marijuana.
The three suspects at large were identified as Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez, Eduardo Ravelo and Luis Mendez. Ravelo is currently one of the FBI`s Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, and the FBI is offering a reward of up to USD 100,000 for information leading to his arrest
The others charged in the consulate killings were Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, Ricardo Valles de la Rosa, Jose Guadalupe Diaz Diaz, Martin Perez Marrufo, Luis Humberto Hernandez Celis, Miguel Angel Nevarez and Enrique Guajardo Lopez.