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U.S. law enforcement officials say they have launched the largest single strike ever at a notorious Mexican drug cartel operating inside the United States. The crackdown resulted in the arrest of more than 300 people in 19 states.
The target of the combined federal, state and local law enforcement effort is the notorious Mexican cartel known as La Familia, a major supplier of cocaine and methamphetamine to drug dealers in the U.S.
The crackdown was announced at a news conference in Washington by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
"We are taking the fight to our adversaries and in so doing, we are making our communities safer and more secure," he said.
Holder said 303 people have been arrested, and law enforcement has seized money and drugs as part of a sweep that reached into 19 U.S. states.
"In the last two days alone, we have seized $3.4 million in U.S. currency and nearly 730 pounds of methamphetamine as well as other narcotics," he said.
U.S. officials describe La Familia as the newest and most violent of Mexico's five major cartels. La Familia is based in southwestern Mexico and has steadily spread into the United States.
FBI Director Robert Mueller said the drug cartel has transformed itself into what he called a sophisticated criminal organization.
Michele Leonhart is the acting administrator for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, which played a major role in the latest crackdown.
"We are fighting an organization whose brutal violence is driven by so called divine justice. Accordingly, La Familia's narco banner declared that they do not kill for money and they do not kill innocent people," he said. "However, their delivery of that message was accompanied by five severed heads rolled onto a dance floor in Uruapan Mexico."
Leonhart says La Familia is philosophically opposed to selling methamphetamine to Mexicans, but eagerly exports the drug to the United States for consumption.
U.S. officials say the heavily armed cartel often carries out murders, kidnappings and assaults to further its reach.
Attorney General Holder said U.S. officials are closely cooperating with Mexico in the battle against La Familia and other drug cartels, a battle he compared with the one waged by law enforcement agencies against organized crime.
"I think we have to keep hitting them," he said. "To the extent that they do grow back, I think we have to work with our Mexican counterparts to really cut off the heads of these snakes and get at the heads of the cartels."
"Indict them, try them either in Mexico or extradite them to the United States. I think we have to use the same techniques that we used effectively against the Mafia here in the United States where you attack these organizations at all levels," he added.
U.S. officials have been targeting La Familia for nearly four years in an investigation known as Project Coronado, and in that time have arrested nearly 1,200 people on drug charges and seized more than 11 tons of narcotics.