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Digging begins in suspected drug-related killing fields in Mexico

Up to 22 Americans may be among dead

November 30, 1999
Web posted at: 9:40 p.m. EST (0240 GMT)

In this story:

Two Mexican ranches may contain 100 graves

One site called 'the shooting range'

Identification through DNA testing

Clinton: Drug traffickers 'particularly vicious'


CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (CNN) -- FBI and Mexican authorities are investigating four suspected mass graves near the border that may contain victims from drug-related killings, some dating back four or more years, officials said.

Agents are focusing on a series of disappearances of Mexican and American citizens that FBI Special Agent David Alba said may be linked to "members of the so-called Juarez cartel."

Relatives of missing people can call these numbers for more information:


Within Mexico:
VideoCNN's Jim Hill goes to the area of the grave sites.
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War on drugs


"During the past four years and possibly longer, citizens of both countries have disappeared without a trace," Alba told reporters during a Tuesday news conference.

CNN has learned that 15 or more informants working in Mexico for the FBI, U.S. Customs Service and Drug Enforcement Administration began disappearing three years ago. Some U.S. officials fear some of the informants could be among those buried at the sites.

Alba said, however, that contrary to some news reports, investigators were not looking for possible remains of FBI or DEA agents at the sites.

Two Mexican ranches may contain 100 graves

Jose Larrieta Carrasco, the head of the Organized Crime Unit of the Mexican government, said investigators were looking at four suspected grave sites.

Previously, officials said they were investigating two ranches near Ciudad Juarez believed to be the sites of more than 100 graves, including possibly as many as 22 U.S. citizens.

"At this point, we have four sites that we are investigating," Carrasco said. "These four sites could contain human remains or bodies. However, right now, we are concentrating on two sites in particular. The other two are under investigation also."

Carrasco would not elaborate on where the sites are located.

One site called 'the shooting range'

Authorities said they were taken to one ranch by an informant who told them he had been involved in killings there.

 Many missing in dangerous area

In the last four years, scores of people -- both Mexicans and Americans -- have disappeared in the Ciudad Juarez area, which is on the main corridor drug traffickers use to transport illegal drugs from Mexico to the United States.

Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, is considered one of the most violent cities in Mexico, with much of the violence linked to drug smuggling.

The ranch, with towering white iron gates, is known locally as "the shooting range."

A concrete block wall covered with graffiti surrounds the rest of the property, located across the street from a junkyard. Topping the concrete wall is a chain-link fence with razor wire.

Several hundred soldiers from the Mexican military were at the sites Tuesday. Many carried semiautomatic weapons and wore ski masks to conceal their identity.

Mexican and U.S. authorities are investigating whether the Juarez cartel or people working for the cartel are responsible for the deaths.

"We believe these individuals were killed for their knowledge of, or participation, or being witnesses to certain drug endeavors," said FBI Deputy Director Tom Pickard in Washington.

Pickard said a number of people who apparently live on the ranches had been detained by Mexican authorities. "We are still trying to assess their relationship to these ranches," Pickard said.

Identification through DNA testing

Al Cruz, an FBI spokesman in El Paso, Texas, said those participating in the investigation include four people from the U.S. Armed Forces Institute of Pathology. The group did forensic testing in Kosovo earlier this year, and it will use similar technology in Mexico, including ground-piercing radar.

A joint U.S./Mexican command center will be set up in El Paso, where the remains of victims will be brought for identification. Exhumation are identification is expected to take at least a month.

Cruz said DNA samples taken from the victims will be analyzed by private laboratories in the United States as well as the FBI crime lab.

Clinton: Drug traffickers 'particularly vicious'

U.S. President Bill Clinton said he had not received confirmation that 22 Americans were among the victims. He condemned the killings as "a horrible example" of the excesses of Mexico's drug cartels.

"I think it reinforces the imperative of our trying not only to protect our border but to work with the Mexican authorities to try to combat these (drug rings)," Clinton said in Washington.

"We had a lot of success a few years ago in taking down a number of the Colombian drug cartels, and one of the adverse consequences of that was a lot of the operations were moved north into Mexico," the president said. "There are organized criminal operations there, and they are particularly vicious."

Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.

Mexico, FBI investigate reports of mass gravesites
November 29, 1999
93 arrested in sting on Mexican drug cartel
September 22, 1999
Feds crack top drug trafficking network
August 17, 1999
Mexico's anti-drugs chief unhurt after assassination attempt
August 16, 1999
Mexico arrests top drug cartel lieutenant
June 25, 1999
DEA chief: Mexican corruption undermines drug war
February 25, 1999

Federal Bureau of Investigation
CIA -- The World Factbook 1999 -- Mexico
Drug Enforcement Agency
U.S. Customs Service
Office of the Attorney General of Mexico (in Spanish)
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