Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fast and Furious killing Americans

Guns used in killing of ICE agent draw scrutiny

WASHINGTON - The one thing the salesman at JJ's Pawn Shop in Beaumont remembered about Robert Riendfliesh from the day he picked up an order of 10 AK-47s was his military-style camouflage hat.

An Army veteran of the Iraq War, Riendfliesh was familiar with weapons like the Romanian-made 7.62 semi-automatic, capable of firing 30 rounds in under a minute. But Riendfliesh, 25, wasn't buying the guns for himself. Records show they were for "Manny," a drug dealer who had promised him $650 in cash.

Six months later, ballistics tests proved one of the weapons Riendfliesh bought was used Feb. 15, 2011, in a deadly attack on a Mexican highway that left ICE Agent Jaime Zapata dead and a fellow agent shot in the leg. Both special agents were assigned to ICE's attaché office in Mexico City.

On Feb. 16 in Baytown, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested Manuel Gomez Barba as part of an ongoing investigation of straw purchasers who were buying guns for Mexican drug cartels.

Now, congressional Republicans are questioning why it took so long to arrest Barba, especially when agents knew early on about his drug convictions, which disqualified him from buying guns, and were aware that he was obliterating serial numbers from guns - by itself a crime.

'Gun walking' denied

More directly, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, also are investigating the possibility that Houston agents stood by while Barba's surrogates bought guns for Mexico's ultra-violent Zetas drug gang - much like the watch-and-wait tactics Phoenix-based ATF agents used in the now discredited Fast and Furious operation.

Court records and ATF case files reviewed by the Houston Chronicle indicate the investigation's plodding pace may have kept agents from short-circuiting the guns purchase, but there is no evidence of so-called "gun walking," or trailing weapons to see where they would end up instead of interdicting them.

In the Phoenix Fast and Furious operation, ATF agents did just that. But they lost track of the weapons and 2,000 or more guns were transported to Mexican cartels as ATF watched.

Two of those weapons were later recovered in Arizona at the murder scene of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in December 2010.

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