Mexican police have arrested eight men after discovering a sophisticated drug smuggling tunnel complete with air conditioning and a lift being dug close to the US border.
The 150 yard-long passageway was found in northwest Mexico less than 65 yards from the US border and close to the California town of Calexico.
It was 1.4 yards wide and 5.4 yards below ground with an electric rail for transporting containers, ventilation, lights and air-conditioning, according to Juan Miguel Guillen, director of police in Mexico’s northern Baja California state.
Officials discovered the clandestine passage after reports of suspicious activity, including the presence of armed men, at a house in Mexicali, across the border from Calexico. They moved in and arrested eight suspects, found below ground digging the tunnel.
“The detainees confessed that they were looking after the building where a drug tunnel was being built,” Mr Guillen told Agence France Presse.
Agents from the US Drug Enforcement Administration were conducting excavations to discover the planned exit point for the tunnel on US soil.
The tunnel’s lift was operated by a hydraulic pulley. Police also found a gun, digging tools and a truck used to cart away the excavated earth at the scene.
The 2,000-mile border between the US and Mexico is the major gateway for much of the cocaine and marijuana that enters the States. The attempted use of tunnels as a means to smuggle in drugs – and also illegal immigrants – is not uncommon. At least 75 have been discovered along America’s border with Mexico since the 1990s, according to Lauren Mack, of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 63 of those since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
In 2006, the largest and deepest tunnel ever found was discovered running between the Mexican city of Tijuana and San Diego, in California. Some 787 yards long, it passed under a densely patrolled stretch of the border and ran between two warehouses.
All of the tunnels constructed in the southern US have been found in border areas in California and Arizona, Ms Mack added.
Mexico’s multi-million-dollar drugs trade is controlled by cartels engaged in violent turf wars, particularly in trafficking hotspots near the border. Authorities did not say for whom the arrested men, who are being held in Mexicali, were believed to be working.
Drug-related violence has surged across Mexico since President Felipe Calderon launched a crackdown on drug-related brutality nearly two years ago. At least 2,700 people have died so far this year.