US agents have seized 1 ton of cocaine and 7 tons of marijuana inside a secret tunnel running beneath the US-Mexico border. The 800-meter passage is the longest discovered in California to date.
US authorities said Wednesday they had discovered a cross-border tunnel that ran a half-mile from a house in the Mexican city of Tijuana to an industrial building in Otay Mesa near San Diego, California.
"This is the largest cocaine seizure ever associated with a tunnel," said Laura Duffy, US Attorney for the Southern District of California.
Running about 14 meters (46 feet) beneath the surface, it connected the bottom of an elevator shaft built into a house in Tijuana to a hole in the ground on the US side enclosed within a fenced-in lot set up as a pallet business.
Federal agents raided the site, and six people were arrested as authorities in San Diego moved on Monday and Tuesday to shut down the tunnel, the 13th subterranean link found along California's border with Mexico since 2006.
The wood pallet business in Otay Mesa, California, had been under surveillance by US agents since last October.
Wooden pallet business fell under suspicion
"The investigation began with an astute border patrol agent who identified this business as suspicious," Duffy said. "They began monitoring this location and saw the people here conducting dry runs."
Earlier this week, US agents followed a truck that carted a dumpster to a central San Diego spot about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of the border and watched as the cargo was loaded onto a box truck, which drove away.
San Diego County sheriff's deputies stopped the truck and seized 2,242 pounds (1,017 kilograms) of cocaine and 11,030 pounds of marijuana, and arrested three men, Duffy said.
US agents searching the pallet lot and the tunnel recovered an additional 3,000-plus pounds of marijuana and arrested three more suspects, she said.
The suspects - a US citizen, two Cubans and three Mexicans, all of whom were in the US legally, were jailed on various drug-trafficking conspiracy charges.
The tunnel's discovery demonstrates the enduring appeal of clandestine passageways to cross-border smugglers. Despite the expense and work involved, dozens have been found along the US-Mexico frontier.
Authorities say the San Diego-Tijuana region is popular because its clay-like soil is relatively easy to dig with shovels and pneumatic tools, and both sides of the border have industrial warehouses that provide cover for trucks and heavy equipment.
jar/rc (AP, Reuters)